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Sunday 33, Year C, 17.11.19: The Jesus Brand

 

If Jesus were trying to market his own brand, he would be an abject failure by current standards, at least if we take today’s Gospel at face value. “Buy into my name and you will be hated by all men!” “Buy my brand and you will be persecuted and imprisoned!” “Come join me and you will be betrayed by parents, relations and friends!” Not exactly thrilling.

 

If you take a closer look at the Gospel reading, Jesus starts with the Temple in Jerusalem and ends with cosmic catastrophe. The Temple was the arch-symbol of the Jewish religion, but Jesus predicts its destruction and claims (in a different part of the Gospel) that the destruction is the result of his being rejected by the Jewish establishment. The fate of Judaism is tied in with the fate of Jesus. They would destroy the temple of His Body on the Cross, a premonition of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in the year 70 AD.

 

Jesus also gives to understand that “nation will rise against nation” because of him. International war! Nature itself will be disturbed by the refusal to accept him: there will be famines and plagues on earth and fearful sights in the heavens. In all this, surely he is exaggerating?

 

Well, if he is the Son of God “in whom all things were made” and “in whom all things hold together” (as St. Paul says), then clearly, to the extent he is rejected, contested, opposed, and killed, it is not only not an exaggeration but a logical consequence that the whole of creation, the whole of humanity will find the measure of its stability and peace to the degree that it accepts him.

 

Yet this strife because of him is nothing new. If we go back to the garden of Eden and its fallout, it is already there. The war between mankind and humanity as well as the war within humanity finds its root there. It is essentially a war of wills. But at the core of that, it is actually the question about who is God: is it God or is it man and woman? The prohibition which God imposed on Adam and Eve was not an arbitrary one. It was an invitation made to their reason and to their freedom to accept the reality of their created humanity, and therefore to accept the reality of the uncreated Divinity. It was, in other words, an invitation to common sense: accept and be who you are, human, not who you are not, divine.

 

We know that the same invitation had been made beforehand to the angels, but some of them had refused. With their refusal, they wanted to associate humanity. And by wit and wile, by plausibility and seduction, by lies, jealousy and hatred, they succeeded. Enter the total cataclysm of the Fall.

 

The great rejection of Christ, as the God of Eden now made flesh, and its bitter and brutal climax on the Cross were but the second act of a tragic play whose first scene was rehearsed in Eden. God was crucified in Eden before he was crucified on Golgotha. And he will continue to be crucified wherever anyone who believes in Him professes his Name in the face of the hatred and rejection of the self-will and arrogance of human beings who claim to be gods unto themselves. They want no talk of redemption or salvation because they reject the perishing thought that they might be guilty of any sin. Far preferable is the madness of believing in science alone, of relativizing all and any supposed moral value, of sneering down their noses at the superstitious ignorance of people of faith. Far more comfortable is the notion of oblivion at the hour of death and, with it, the dissolution into absurdity of their own self-proclaimed achievements.

 

This is why the choice facing every human being when it comes to Jesus Christ is not a matter of taste, nor is it a matter of intellectual preference. Because Christ is not a supermarket brand or a theory. Christianity is not one option among equals. Christ is the Pantokrator: the all-powerful Creator whose tenderness and beauty gave life to the very ones who crucified him. The choice we have before Him is the choice between life and death, meaning and absurdity, final glory or final oblivion.

 

That is why Jesus would never market himself. He is not a product or commodity. His Name is not to be bought or sold, as Judas Iscariot so tragically mistook, but to be loved or hated. There is no in-between: those who are indifferent already reject him. And the Prophet Malachi makes it clear: there will be either, on the one hand, the arrogant and evil-doer or, on the other, those who fear (in the sense of revere) his Name. Malachi speaks of a Day that is coming like a “burning furnace.” Depending on where we stand in relation to Christ, our fate will be to “burn like stubble, leaving neither stalk nor root” or, as someone standing in the bright sun of noontide, to experience the sun of righteousness “with healing in its rays.” Incineration or healing: the choice is ours.

 

And who is the evil-doer and the arrogant? Is it the ordinary person striving to live as best they can, but tripped up at times by weakness and at times by selfishness? Hardly. It is the one who knowingly and deliberately faces the claims and the person of Jesus and, as it were, looks him in the eye and either dismisses him as a fraud or simply ignores him as irrelevant to their own chosen path. It is the one who knows who Jesus is but couldn’t care less. It is the one who, like Satan, considers himself too important, too grandiose, too beyond words as to be bothered with trifles like religion, prayer or faith. Such things only elicit a cold-hearted grin.

 

Are there such people? Maybe. But who among us would dare to point the finger?

 

And who are those who fear his Name? They are those who try to love Him, to respond to Him, who offer Him their little acts of virtue, their humble prayers, their heartfelt sorrow for letting Him down. They are those who long to see his Face, to feel Him near, to be held by his strong right hand. They are those who are, or want to be, at peace by simply being in his presence, and rejoice when they manage to obey His will in simplicity of heart. They are those who trust in his mercy, who hope in his final victory over their own sins, troubles, weaknesses and death. They are those who weep and sigh out of love for their loved ones and friends who are in distress and sin. They are those who labour and sweat to bring true justice and peace to the world, to raise up their family for His sake, who risk life and limb to do good or to preserve it. They are those who long to hear his voice and who will thrill with joy when at last they do so and rise from their graves to experience the eternal healing pouring forth from the rays of his divine heart.

 

Are there such people? Indeed, there are! And many of them are sitting right here in front of me.

 

The Day of Christ is coming. What love for Christ is it that we would fear his coming (St. Augustine)? What hope of his glory that we would delay its arrival? Before that Final Day for all mankind, will come the final Day for each of us at the hour of our death. Our endurance in his love, in faith and hope in him, will win us our lives. On that Day, no hatred or persecution, no family, social, international or cosmic calamity will reach us. For, has He not said: “not a hair on your heads will be harmed”? Until that day, let each of us sustain the fight, engage the battle and defy the arrogant. Oblivion itself will be obliterated and the seeds of love we have sown in our daily grind will flourish once more in Eden. Let that Day dawn soon, Lord, very soon!

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