“In the days of trouble” (Ps 77:3) we call upon the Lord, because we are convinced that “he gives life and breath and everything else to everyone” (Acts 17:25). We appeal to the saints, visit shrines, kiss relics, make novena …. always to have life.
The crowds were seeking Jesus, “they tried to dissuade him from leaving” (Lk 4:42). They touched him “because of the power that went out from him and healed them all” (Lk 6:19). They approach him for life. “I have come—he said—that they may have life, life in all its fullness” (Jn 10, 10).
Yet in his proposal, there is something of a paradox, indeed, absurd. To achieve the life it is necessary to lose it, “I lay down my life to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down freely” (Jn 10:17-18). He justifies his choice of comparing himself to the seed: “Unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (Jn 12:24).
It really takes a lot of faith to be convinced that, in order to have life, you have to “give it up to death” (Rev 12:11). Strange, disconcerting logic! God assures Abraham a posterity as numerous as the stars in the sky … and asks him to sacrifice his son Isaac, who should make the promise a reality. A test like this may well be faced only by one who firmly believes, like Abraham.
Jesus promises to introduce the disciple into life. “The one who follows me will have the light of life … will never see death … will never experience death” (Jn 8:12, 51-52) … and goes toward the cross; he plunges into the waters of death.
But “he will re-emerge” on Easter Day. Blessed are those who have the courage to follow him: he will give them to eat of the “tree of life” (Rev 2:7). They will be with him forever (1 Thes 4:17) and they shall see God as he is (1 Jn 3:2).
To internalize the message, we repeat: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
A picture of Christ wanted: long hair, untrimmed beard, friend of the marginalized, herald of a revolutionary message, frowned upon by the powers that be, circulated at the end of the 60s. It was the Jesus of the protesters. It made its appearance alongside the mystic who was attracted by the religious devotions and spiritual intimism.
The triumphant Jesus had also his time, between banners and flags: He was the “conqueror of kingdoms” and the protector of the rulers of this world.
The Jesus of religion is the most rustproof. He guarantees justice, awards the good, protects the pious and punishes the wicked. Sometimes someone puts him down to the role of bogeyman or bugbear for the children who misbehave. He is still the useful guarantor of moral behavior deemed positive.
Jesus is a character that everyone seems to want to yank to have him on one’s side.
There’s also the Jesus that we carry within us since the years of our childhood. He is presented to us by sometimes more willing than prepared catechists. A Jesus that may never have convinced us to the end. At some point of our life, he did not have much more to say to us.
After two thousand years, he never ceases to provoke and question every person and, as he did one day near Caesarea Philippi. He urges us with a puzzling question: “Who do you say I am?”
In front of so many circulating images of him, it is difficult to select the authentic one.
To internalize the message, we repeat: “I do not venerate a character from the past nor his doctrine, we believe in Christ, the Son of the living God.”
To the south of the city of Jerusalem the “potter’s field” is referred to even today. The land was bought with silver coins returned by Judas to the priests of the temple (Mt 27:3-10). It was the same place where the kings of Israel had made some horrible wickedness, leading to sacrifice their children to Baal. Towards the end of the seventh century BC the pious King Josiah had desecrated it (2 K 23:10). Since then, to be buried there was considered the height of ignominy. With the money of betrayal, the high priests bought that field to convert it into a cemetery to bury strangers (Mt 27:7). For the impure and unclean Gentiles it could not but be a reserved cursed place (Jer 19:11) and also being dead they had to be kept separated from the sons of Abraham.
The impetus for the discrimination and the tendency to erect barriers between good and evil, pure and impure, saints and sinners are deeply rooted in the human heart. They re-emerge in the most varied forms: fear of confrontation, inability to manage an open, serene and respectful dialogue with those who have different opinions. Sometimes these impulses are camouflaged behind the complaint of real dangers, syncretism, irenicism, loss of identity, the renunciation of one’s values.
How can one who consider the other “distant” speak of ecumenism? Who can be so presumptuous as to consider himself “near”? All of us are “far away” from Christ and are walking towards the perfection of the Father who is in heaven (Mt 5:48). Only one who is aware of being “impure,” who cannot boast of merits before God, is in the right disposition to accept the salvation. “The publicans and the prostitutes are ahead of you on the way to the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus assured. Not having any merit of which to boast, they rely spontaneously on the Lord and arrived ahead of one who considers himself pure (Mt 21:31).
To internalize the message, we repeat: “We are ashamed to have them as fellow travelers. Then the surprise: they had entered into the kingdom of God before us.”
Tensions, conflicts and misunderstandings have always accompanied the church-world relationships, but even more are highlighted with the coming of empiricism and rationalism that characterized the thinking of the XVII and XVIII centuries. The purely naturalistic view of the world and the unconditional trust in reason seemed to undermine the very foundations of the faith and the supernatural. The historical and archaeological research of the XIX century showed the apparent inconsistencies related to the traditional interpretation of the Bible.
Dictated by suspicions and fears, the response of the believers was not immediately serene. The movement of purification of ideas, language, and religious practices suffered delays, setbacks, rethinking and involutions.
Today it is already possible to highlight the major changes stimulated by the secular challenges. They came up especially after the Second Vatican Council. From the study and meditation of the Word of God, finally in the hands of Christians, an image of God no longer imprisoned in the most archaic categories, a new face of man, a more evangelical church and the proposal of a society based on authentic values are emerging and delivered to the world, even in the midst of contradictions.
Something similar already happened in the days of the prophet Elijah, as the first reading will tell. Jesus asked his disciples a greater change of mentality as what will come out of the gospel passage. The path of conversion is not yet concluded. Not only in the signs of the times, but also through the severe criticism of non-believers, the Spirit invites Christians to project the sight, minds and hearts beyond the narrow horizons in which the fear of growing risks in keeping them prisoners.
To internalize the message, we repeat: “Even if I cross through a dark valley, I fear not, because you, Lord, are with me.”