February 9, 2009
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
In a dispute with the Jewish leaders, Jesus chastises them by saying, "How can you believe when you accept glory from one another?" (John 5.44). Why depend on God when you are already full of yourself?
This is a good question and it doesn't just apply to people 2,000 years ago. If my family room is lined with plaques and trophies from my glory days, what need have I of God? If I am buoyed because of the praise I receive for my accomplishments or even for my character, how can I hunger for God?
I perceive myself as already full. I assume that there is no gap, no emptiness in my being crying out to be filled by the Infinite One.
But Jesus is God. In some strange paradox, the Son of God, who is the fullness of being, took sin, all sin – the complete absence of being – into himself. His emptiness, his suffering, is unjust. Jesus is pure goodness, but he has taken the darkness and emptiness of sin into his being.
Because Jesus has entered into nothingness, God is absent. Totally absent. It is impossible for the fullness of being to be present in the emptiness of being. And Jesus, who has been so intimate with God, Jesus who is God, experiences this emptiness in a way that no human being can. The physical sufferings of the cross are as a fleabite compared with this existential agony.
The resurrection of Jesus really makes no sense. Although Jesus did not turn his back on God, he took upon himself the sin of all those who did. As such, he is alienated from God. He made his own the bleak words of Psalm 22, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
Father Raniero Cantamalessa, preacher to the last two popes, writes, "The resurrection is, above all, an act of infinite tenderness. . . . It was (the Father's) embrace after the atrocious separation' of the cross, an act of infinite fatherly tenderness" (Life in Christ, pp. 73-74).
When I am filled up by the applause of others, how can I hunger to be filled up by God?
St. Paul sees the Father's raising Jesus from the dead as almost his defining characteristic. We might call Michael Phelps "the man who won eight gold medals at Beijing" as though everything else one might say of him is secondary. In a similar way, Paul several times refers to "God the Father who raised (Jesus Christ) from the dead" (Galatians 1.1).
The Father did the incredible thing. He sent his own Son into pure emptiness and glorified it with the fullness of being. For Paul, there is little more we need to say about him.
Because of this, we have hope. If the Father would give the fullness of life to him who assumed all the emptiness from every person in all time, what can he do for one whose own emptiness is far less complete?
When Paul writes, "If Christ has not been raised, . . . you are still in your sins" (1 Corinthians 15.17), he was not kidding.
But not only was the resurrection a removal of the negative, it offered the possibility of an awesomely positive relationship between humanity and God. Jesus "was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification" (Romans 4.25).
Our hope is not in vain "because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Romans 5.5). We have been granted "the glorious liberty of the children of God" (8.21).
No longer estranged from God, we have actually been made God's children through the Fullness of Being breathing that Being into the nothingness of sin.
This is why the resurrection is the central belief for Christians. We gasp with awe at the Father smashing through seemingly-impermeable walls and bringing us fullness of life.
Paul's prescription of the path we must follow to this fullness of life is simple: "If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10.9). Proclaim that Jesus is God and believe in the resurrection.
If we believe these things, we will be drawn right into the life of the sacraments in order to share more fully in the fullness of life Christ offers through his resurrection.
We do not receive glory from one another. To complete Jesus' words recorded in John 5, we must "seek the glory that comes from the only God." We receive that glory through Christ's death and resurrection and through sharing in God's life as members of his body the Church.
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