23 March 2010

I do nothing on my own

5th Week of Lent: Readings
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
SS. Domenico e Sisto, Roma

Imagine going to a dinner party and finding yourself seated next to a complete stranger. This stranger, impeccably polite, introduces himself by telling you his name, occupation, nationality, and religion. You, also flawlessly polite, respond by telling him that you are Sister Mary Margaret, a Catholic religious from Kenya, and that you are a high school principal studying for a teaching degree at the Angelicum in Rome. While you are speaking, the stranger nods. He makes all the polite noises of someone listening. He smiles. Imagine that at the end of your short introduction, he looks you squarely in the eye, and asks, “So, who are you?” How would you answer him? You might wonder if he was he was really listening. Maybe his English isn't all that great, and he misunderstood. Or he could be asking you a deeply philosophical, profoundly existential question about your purpose in life. You are confused. You have revealed all he needs to know, so why is he asking this bizarre question? Who are you?

Confronting the inquisitive Pharisees, Jesus finds himself (once again!) in this exact situation. He has told them all they need to know about who he is. He is telling them all they need to know about who he is. He says, “You belong to what is below, I belong to what is above. You belong to this world, but I do not belong to this world.” He tells them that he is “I AM.” He even tells them that if they do not believe that he is I AM they will die in their sins. Surely, the most educated men in the land, men deeply rooted in scripture, cannot have missed the reference to Moses and his encounter with God during which God Himself says, “I AM.” Yet, that is exactly what happens. They ask Jesus, “Who are you?” In answer, Jesus tells them that “'. . .the one who sent me is true, and what I heard from him I tell the world.'” 

Do they understand now? John writes, “They did not realize that he was speaking to them of the Father.” They did not realize. Are they hard of hearing? Linguistically disabled? Or is it that their hearts and minds are clouded by sin, their eyes and ears rendered useless by pride and fear? If what Jesus is saying is true, they have much to lose. In fact, they have everything they treasure in this world to lose! They cannot hear, cannot see because hearing and seeing the truth that Jesus lays before them, the truth that he has been laying before them from the beginning, this truth—that he is the Lord—destroys their world. Who wants to hear that in order to gain eternal life, you must lose your worldly life, forfeit everything you treasure in this world?

The stranger sitting next to you at dinner introduces himself as Christ Jesus, I AM, sent from the Father. You know that he is telling you the truth. After politely listening to you introduce yourself, Christ looks you squarely in the eyes and asks, “Who are you?” What do you say? If you have lost everything, surrendered all for his sake—name, status, purpose, heritage, pride, fear—given it all away, you should answer, “I am Christ too.” Then, with Christ, you can introduce yourself every time you are asked, “I do nothing on my own. . .The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to him.”

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