Last week I used a quote from Simone Weil as a way into our readings. This week she popped up again. On Friday, we had a couple of classes from our schools attend Mass. We had a bunch of excellent questions from the students. (One of our grade 1 students asked why did we have to die in the first place.) One of our Year 8 students had a question about today’s gospel. He quoted the bit about Jesus saying he will stand by those who stand by him, and reject those who reject him.
This student’s question was the fundamental interfaith question: what about non-Christians? What about someone who has lived a good life, has committed no sin but is not Christian: does Jesus reject that person?
This is a really important question. The way it is asked and the way it is answered is almost equally as important as the content of the answer. Perhaps there is a tendency to hear such topics as potentially exclusionary or discriminatory or even arrogant. We might even feel that such conversations run the risk that we hear about in our first reading. Jeremiah knows that his prophecies have earned him a negative nickname. He is the butt of jokes. He is typecast as a pessimist. His message perhaps has even become cliched, along the lines of: religion is all doom and destruction.
It is worth therefore getting a couple of things straight. Both of them relate to this idea that revelation is judgement. That somehow Christians are arrogant in thinking that they alone have the good news.
The first thing worth saying is something that Simone Weil said well. She said if people are running away from Jesus towards what they think is the truth, if they are doing this sincerely, then they are running straight into his arms.
When Jesus says that anyone who disowns him, he will disown, we must remember the many ways Jesus makes himself known. As truth. As life. As justice. As the cry of the poor. As the splendour of the Father. There are therefore innumerable ways people can testify to Christ.
On a more profound level, it is very interesting to read about the interactions of mystics across religious traditions. While the theologies may not match up (and we should not dismiss this point because is the truth), there is something across the mystical traditions in terms of prayer and practice, that allows deeply religious persons to recognise kindred spirits. This of course speaks to our common humanity, that each of us is created in the image of God and to become a child of God.
However, when we say this, we have to be very careful. In making the correct effort not to limit God’s love and mercy, we cannot at the same time water down the words of Jesus. The fact that Jesus is saying that people can disown him means we need to take this seriously. And much of this turns on the fact of revelation.
One of the criticisms of the idea of revelation is that it excludes. If I say that I know what God says and that someone else is getting it wrong, I can easily be understood as being conceited. What makes me so great that I know more about God? This is especially the case when we have so many examples within the Church throughout history of people not walking the talk.
However, this kind of a criticism of revelation precisely misses the point. Revelation is not about me knowing more about God than someone else. Revelation is about God’s freedom to speak. God knows more about God. And God must be free to communicate Godself to us. Criticisms of the fact of revelation more often than not run into the problem of denying God the freedom to speak.
As Christians, we cannot shy away from the fact that we believe that God has spoken through God’s Word. While that Word speaks throughout the cosmos and throughout human history, nevertheless that Word was addressed in a special way to God’s people, the Jews. That Word really did take flesh in the humanity of Jesus Christ. That Word really did give itself in its entirety – body, blood, soul and divinity – to its bride the Church. That Word, Jesus Christ, really does announce the gospel of God’s kingdom, and really does demand that we obey God’s commandments.
This is not arrogance. As we see in the figure of our Lady, this is the height of humility. It is the height of humility because when we truly do listen to God’s Word, when we truly do live by God’s commands, then we are called to repent of our sins, pick up our cross and follow Christ. And in fact, this kind of quiet, prayerful awareness of our limitations in the face of God’s majesty and love: this speaks to all people with sincere hearts, speaks across faiths, and invites everyone to the banquet of the Lord. God really has spoken.
Perhaps this really what Jesus is on about. When he says anyone who declares himself or herself for him, perhaps he is talking about proclamation. We have a duty to share Christ with other, and therefore he needs to be proclaimed. Other people deserve to know Christ’s commandments given through the Church, his words of eternal life, therefore we have the duty not to change or dilute them.
Let’s pray then that we proclaim God’s message in all its richness, so that others can know Jesus Christ and his invitation into God’s family.