Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A-2011

You will show me the path to life (Ps. 16:11—NAB)

John the Baptist’s ministry of preparing the way for Jesus ended, one might say, with his arrest and subsequent imprisonment. One might further say that Jesus picked up where John left off in the sense that Jesus then immediately started his ministry at Capernaum in Galilee and preached there the same message of repentance the Baptist preached in the wilderness of Judea. “Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” So, then, as it is often said, when one door closes, another opens.

The regional prejudice of those who looked to Judea as the religious center sought to close the door of salvation to those hailing from areas considered synonymous with less-than-pure Judaism, schism, syncretism or even downright paganism (cf. Jn. 1:46; 7:52). But when human beings closed, God himself opened, so that these areas of darkness would prove open to the great light, as the prophet Isaiah had already prophesied. The brilliant rays of the great light that was Jesus—who “went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people”—reached far and wide and attracted great crowds from all over (Mt. 4:23-25). The darkness has not overcome the light, any more than sin has overwhelmed grace (Jn. 1:5; Rom. 5:20). Even when in the beginning the Lord God himself closed the door of the garden of Eden to fallen humanity, he opened another door by way of a mysterious message of victory and restoration (Gen. 3:15, 34-24) [1]. The original fault freely committed by our first parents gained for us so great a Redeemer [2].

Adam and Eve saw great prospect in the devil’s suggestion that they could be like God, all-knowing and immortal. Who would not want, after all, to rise above the limitations inherent to being a creature and to soar high like the Creator, not hindered or shackled by anything? But by giving in to such suggestion and desire, they closed for themselves and all of humanity the door to life.

God, however, opened the door again when he sent his only Son, like us in all things but sin (Heb. 2:17-18; 4:15). Human to the utmost and compassionately identifying with our poverty as human beings, especially as it is manifested in those who are invariably denied entry, the marginalized and the social outcasts (poor, women, children sinners), the Son of God teaches us by word and example to accept our humanity with its poverty and thus recover the original blessing that comes with our being God’s creatures. On the cross especially, Jesus shows us that we are truly human “when we face the fact that we are not masters of our fate. In the Cross God defined the human being as a creature that he as creator might be wholly with us, as parent with child” [3].

As God “bent toward humanity” in compassion, as Edward Schillebeeckx, O.P., put it, the crucified Jesus protests, of course, against sin and against the suffering, death and the cruel inhumanity that sin leads to; suffering and death are not demanded by God as payment for sin or as ways to appease him [4]. Jesus suffered and died to affirm what we would rather deny, namely, our humanity and our being God’s creatures. In so doing, he opens to us the path to life.

The open path to life is Jesus. As Karl Rahner expressed it in a prayer [5], because God’s Son gave his body for us and tasted death, which is the wages of sin (Rom. 6:23), we need not despair in the sinful darkness of our lives; we can instead be confident when the weakness of the flesh and of sin seems to crush us. “Through him who was crucified, all is changed: darkness into light, death into life, weakness into strength, emptiness and loneliness into fullness and closeness to” to God. “His life redeems, inasmuch as his death is axiologically present in his entire life” [6]. Those, then, who carry about in the body the dying of Jesus reveals as well in the body the life of Jesus (2 Cor. 4:10-11) [7].

For these, as well as for Jesus, God is not a God of gaps who is invoked only when one is at the end of one’s wit or resources, for they call upon him incessantly and ever rely on him as they constantly recognize their utter poverty and helplessness. Those who follow his bidding, “Come and die,” and believe in him, ready to exchange everything for the kingdom of heaven, will live even though they die (Jn. 11:25) [8]. They are saved despite, or better because of, Jesus’ death.

John the Baptist’s testimony might well have ended with his imprisonment. But it was not completed until he was executed. The witness of those today who commune with the crucified Jesus and promote the expansion of the “network of charity,” closing the door to division and opening the door to unity, will not be complete until they close their eyes in death, but only to open them to the light of life.


NOTES:

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church 410.
[2] Ibid. 390; cf. also the “Easter Proclamation.”
[3] Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., “He was one of us,” America (January 3, 2011) 25.
[4] Cf. http://www.ncronline.org/news/people/edward-schillebeeckx-herald-god-among-us (accessed January 22, 2011).
[5] Cf. http://www.feastofsaints.com/rahnerprayer.htm (accessed January 22, 2011).
[6] Karl Rahner, S.J., “On the Theology of Death,” as cited in http://hospitallers.blogspot.com/2007/08/on-theology-of-death_08.html (accessed January 22, 2011).
[7] Cf. on “deus ex machine” the above-referenced web page on Schillebeekx and also Bonhoeffer’s thoughts in http://people.bu.edu/wwildman/bce/bonhoeffer.htm (accessed January 22, 2011).
[8] Cf. http://www.crossroad.to/Persecution/Bonhoffer.html (accessed January 22, 2011).