It’s Not What You Know

Sorrowful_Mother_Shrine_Chapel_(Bellevue,_Ohio)_-_stained_glass,_Jesus_Father_of_the_PoorJesus Christ, in assuming human nature, became fully human, becoming one of us. Just as he is consubstantial with the Father before all ages, he became consubstantial with us. He is God and human so that in and through his person, the Logos, humanity is able to partake of the divine nature throughout eternity. He is the bridge which unites heaven with earth; the eschaton which has become immanent.

There is a history to humanity before the incarnation. Sin took control of the human condition. Because of the interdependent relationship between humanity and the rest of creation, human sin has a disastrous effect on the whole chain of being. Nothing is left untainted.  And yet, for humanity, the glorious noble image of God in which they were formed remained even though it was covered up by the sledge of sin. Humanity became less than human as it embraced the nihilistic void of sin. We are born into the world shaped by the sin which has come before us; the structure of sin infects our mind and how we perceive the world.

The incarnation shows us that we do not need to be stuck in the past, that we need to keep within the structure of sin set up by our ancestors; we are able to join in with Jesus, to become a part of his mystical body, so that we can uncover the glorious image of God within and as well as partake of the glory which Christ is willing to share with all: “The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.  As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven.  Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Cor. 15:47-9 RSV). So long as we open to him, we find our consubstantial unity with him allows us to take on and embrace what he is in his humanity and to make it our own.  “Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn. 3:2 RSV).

The kind of relationship we have with Jesus will determine how we will let Jesus impart his grace upon us and the kind of person we will transform into thanks to that grace.  This relationship must not be seen as merely a gnostic one, where we have the right knowledge and everything comes out right because of it.  We are not saved merely by what we know and believe; we can’t think “I have the right knowledge about Jesus, I understand who he is as the church explains, and therefore, I have nothing to fear, I am saved. It is about how we open ourselves to his promptings in our life; that is, once we have become a part of his mystical body, once we have opened ourselves to our consubstantial unity with him, what we do with that will determine exactly how Jesus will come to us and integrate his glory with us. We might not have explicit knowledge of him and his work in us, but we can be open to it, and finding ourselves integrating his grace in us without knowing it by doing his will. Likewise, we might have explicit knowledge of him, affirm his standing, but deny him by rejecting his will, finding ourselves stuck in ourselves and cut off from grace.

This was, after all, what he said about the Last Judgment; for he said that affirmation and denial of him will be seen in the way people treated each other. Due to our interdependence with him and his consubstantial unity with humanity, Jesus is found in all of us, but he is especially found in and met in the oppressed of world suffering from injustices by the powers that be. Those who give their lives and being, out of love, for the sake of such beloved poor are said to have affirmed Jesus and will be rewarded by him by their entry into the kingdom of God, while those who continue to oppress the poor afflicted people of the world who suffer such injustice are said to have oppressed Jesus and to be denied entry into the kingdom.

Just as God often speaks in a whisper instead of a clear, loud voice, so Jesus is found in the humiliated poor, those suffering at the hands of the powers that be. Those who want to welcome Jesus into their lives will do what they can for the oppressed because then they will be seen as welcoming Jesus in the stranger just as Abraham was shown to welcome God in his open hospitality to the strangers who met with him at Mamre. We do not have to know, or see, or sense Jesus is there;  what we do for them, we are doing for Jesus, and indeed, for the good of all humanity in Jesus. Of course, knowing this will help encourage us even more to follow through with acts of love, helping all those who we can; by welcoming Jesus in the stranger, we follow Abraham; but by welcoming them at the gates and bringing them in to our cities, to our homes, protecting them and giving them food and shelter, we are like Lot, who was the one righteous man able to be saved once the avaricious hostility of Sodom and Gomorrah led to their own implosion.

Explicit knowledge of Christ, of the truths of the faith, will help us, so long as we follow their implications and live our lives in the way Christ intends for us to live. Nonetheless, such knowledge, while useful, is nothing when it is not tied with charity.  Those who have such knowledge, those who partake of the sacraments, risk their own perdition if they live their lives in opposition to the path of love which Christ set up. Without love, what they have is nothing; with love, then they are open to Jesus and will encounter him in the humanity of the other even as they open up to him in their own lives, in their own humanity.

Baptism allows us to put on Jesus because he first put on humanity upon himself. We eat his flesh and blood so that he can come into us, turning us into himself. When we act wrongly, when we act out of selfishness and spite, confession is able to break down the barrier, to help us unattach ourselves from ourselves, and realize the truth of our interdependent relationship with Jesus. He is one with us, and we are to be one with him even as he Father and Spirit is one with him in his divinity. We are to be one, so that we can share in his glory, share in his beatitude; if we open ourselves up to him and to where he may be found, we unite with him. Then, we find that he can and will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves; he shares with us all that he is, so that his work on the cross is able to be applied to us, not as some sort of extrinsic justification, but in the internal transformation and realization of ourselves as christs in Christ. He died for us because we are able to be with him in that death, likewise, we rise again in and with him, because we are able to be one with him.

It is Jesus who works the work which needs to be done, though if we estrange him by our actions, we will have cut ourselves off from him and unable to receive the fruit of his labor, while those who follow without knowledge of doing so, are receiving that fruit – they are, as Rahner put it, anonymous Christians and mystics. It is Jesus who said those who do the work of Jesus and show love to the needy stranger will realize in the eschaton their union with Jesus, while those who deny Jesus by their deeds will find Jesus is not known in them and so they will suffer the effects of their individualization, whatever those effects might be. Not everyone who says Lord, Lord truly knows the lord; it takes following out his path of love to truly encounter him and his saving grace.


[IMG=Jesus, Father of the Poor by  Nheyob (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons]


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