APRIL 14, 2010- WEDNESDAY OF 2nd WEEK OF EASTER : ACTS 5:17-26; JOHN 3:16-21

 

SAINT JOHN’S GOSPEL PRESENTS JESUS IN A PERSPECTIVE STRIKINGLY DIFFERENT FROM THE VIEWS OF THE OTHER THREE GOSPELS. The opening lines of John’s account situate all the events that follow, including the words of Jesus, in the context of eternity. “In the beginning was the Word . . . and the Word was God. . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” This eternal perspective is present throughout the account of our Lord’s life and teaching, so as to cast in a dramatic setting the whole. We are not surprised then to discover that frequently in the course of this Gospel our Lord’s encounters with others are depicted as a conflict between light and darkness. In today’s liturgical readings this tension is presented in a absolute terms. John commenting on the reception the Lord received in his active ministry expresses a view of reality that holds for us today as surely as it applied to his own times. : Whoever believes in him (the only Son of God) avoids condemnation, but whoever does not believe is already condemned.”

 

This is strong language indeed! As I reflect on these words of the Gospel, there comes to mind an encounter I had many years ago- in 1944 or ’45, during WWII. I was 18 at the time, stationed at the Navy Hospital, and, being on a day’s leave, dropped in a USO where servicemen were welcomed with a cup of coffee and a pastry. As I approached the serving table I encountered a middle-aged man, one of the volunteers on the staff. He accosted me quite abruptly, not to say aggressively, with a question: “Are you saved?” Realizing that only a protestant would consider it appropriate to commence a conversation with such an opening, I replied with all desirable clarity intended to put an end to our conversation: “No, I am a Catholic.”

 

This exchange illustrates how words can seem to say the opposite of their intended meaning.  Although in the living context each of us immediately understood one another, the meaning was implied not expressed. Only years later, after I studied theology, could I state the unexpressed content of his question and my reply. What my host implied by his question was based on today’s Gospel text as understood by Luther and reformulated in his well known teaching: “Salvation is by faith alone, not by works.” When I said, “No, I am a Catholic” I did not mean what it could seem to say: “No, I am not saved because I am a Catholic.” What I intended to convey by my reply in those pre-ecumenical times was “Go away and don’t trouble me with your false opinions. Faith alone does not save, but, as Jesus taught, and the Catholic Church insists, good works must flow from faith.” Also, as St Paul taught, we cannot know for sure that we are among the saved. We can only hope in trust. John witnessed to this elsewhere when he quotes our Lord as saying: “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” (John 14: 14)

 

The point that is made in this Gospel today is that we are confronted with a choice that is decisive for our future in eternity. Do we trust God who offers us his love in the person of his only Son? We are to show this trust by belief in his word as conveyed to us through and in the person of Jesus. To believe in him is to hand over to him with confidence our very self and all that proceeds from us. Our acts, our whole life in fact, are to flow from this radical choice made in faith. One of the most mysterious features of our human nature is the fact that we are intrinsically related to some reality exterior to us. We are not complete in our own self. This is true throughout the whole of our existence. Of course, it is most obvious in the period of our gestation in our mother’s womb. It remains evident during our early years of infancy when the patterns of character are formed. Although the need for relatedness to others gradually assumes more subtle forms, yet the necessity for such relations is no less intense. In fact, it becomes more conscious as our awareness develops in depth and breadth. And yet, no achievement in this world, no earthly acquisition, no human friendship proves sufficient to satisfy for long a restless urge for completion. We read in Psalm 4:8: “You alone, O Lord, make me rest secure.” This deepening of consciousness of God’s love, power, and presence is the work of prayer made possible for us by the gift of God’s Spirit within us. It is this same Spirit that is active in the Eucharist. May we welcome him who is the life-giver accompanying our risen Savior so as to fulfill the restless longing lodged in the depths of our being, to belong wholly to the Father, with the Son, by that loving knowledge that is their Holy Spirit.&


Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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