The Daily Bread, 5th June, 2020: Your Only Son.
Readings: 2 Timothy 3:10-17; Psalm 118(119):157,160-161,165-166,168; Mark 12:35-37
“If David calls the Messiah ‘Lord’, how can he be also his son?”
What’s the answer to this question which Jesus asks at the end of the Gospel today? It is that his Lord, i.e. God, became flesh, i.e. man. Jesus is the Son of God before he was the Son of David or of Mary. What Jesus is therefore saying indirectly to his listeners that, as the Messiah or the Christ, he is both true God and true man, divine and human.
Authentic Catholic Tradition has fared better than other Christian traditions in its devotion to Jesus as both God and man. In the early Church, there were various heresies which had difficulty accepting that Jesus was both. Some opted for his divinity only, some for his humanity only. There is one heresy which said that the Son of God did truly become man in Jesus but that, after he died, Jesus left the body behind. His resurrection and ascension were therefore only spiritual, not in the flesh. He left Jesus behind and returned to being the Son of God only.
But that is not the Catholic faith. It is rather that he truly became man and truly remains man. He rose and ascended in the body he took from the Virgin Mary, but it is now glorified. It is that glorified body of his whose substance we receive in the Eucharist. It is to share in the glory of that body that we ourselves hope to be raised up on the last day.
At the same time, there has existed in Catholicism at different periods a tendency to somehow treat the humanity of Jesus as secondary. The “Jesus is God” at times blocks out the “Jesus as man.” There can be many reasons for this, of course. Perhaps one of them is that we are so aware of the problems of our own human condition that out of a sort of “misplaced politeness” we don’t want to associate Jesus too much with being human. I suppose that is understandable from the point of view of our fallen humanity. We experience its fallenness in so many ways: limitations, weakness, illness, sinfulness, mortality and death itself.
And yet, God did not destine our humanity to either be fallen or, once it had fallen, remain fallen. Our humanity has always been destined by God to share in his divinity. We need to watch, therefore, that we don’t somehow project onto God the disappointment or even disgust we might sometimes feel as regards out own humanity. God does not see it that way. Never has. Never will.
That’s why something like devotion to the Sacred Heart is so important. At a time in history (known as the Enlightenment) when the great thinkers of Europe and America were becoming more and more rationalist (i.e. asserting reason even as superior to faith, as if faith were no longer necessary), Jesus made his appearances to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque as the Sacred Heart. Our salvation is not in our heads or in a heady concentration on the divine, but in the pierced human heart of the Saviour, from which there flowed the blood and water, signs of the pouring out of his life and love for our redemption.
Undoubtedly, there are distortions even of this devotion whereby people become sickly and sweetly and pour out their sycophantic complexes on Christ. We cannot reduce Christ to one devotion to him, nor distort that devotion to avoid the serious challenges which the Gospel of Christ presents to our moral and spiritual lives. But distortions do not remove the pedagogical value of this devotion. Christ himself is the greatest pedagogue: he knows precisely what he is doing in revealing himself as the Sacred Heart or, in the 20th century, as the Divine Mercy.
In Catholicism we must keep the head and the heart together. Those who sneer at devotions which appeal to the heart are in danger of becoming heartless themselves. Likewise, those who dismiss as too difficult or complicated the need to know and study the truth of Christ are in danger of a terrible indifference and ignorance.
St. Paul, in our first reading today, speaks rather of true devotion to Christ, a devotion which will always lead to being attacked. People attach true devotion because they will not accept one or other of its constituent parts. They will reject what does not suit them and oppose those who do not agree with them.
When I was pondering on true devotion to the humanity of Christ, through which we are saved and through which the Spirit is poured out on us and we are drawn into the life of God, I thought of King David. David had this incredible experience: God was his offspring! God was his son (albeit some 28 generations later!). Then, I thought, what if I were to consider Jesus, not only as my God, but as my son? What would that look like, feel like?
When Jesus dies on the Cross, St. John’s Gospel quotes the following words from the prophet Zechariah: “They will look on the one they have pierced and weep for him as for an only son.” This text is taken up again in the Book of the Apocalypse. At the return in glory of Christ at the end of time, every eye will see him and weep for him. Then, elsewhere in the Gospel, Jesus insists that all who keep his word will be his mother, brother and sister. Moreover, he calls himself repeatedly the “Son of Man”, almost as if he wants to be considered as the son of every man.
Perhaps this would be a fruitful meditation and even way of relating to Jesus. To treat him as your son, your only son. At 62, I can look at him crucified at 30/33, and see what it might mean to say he is my son. What’s important is to consider how you would love such a son, what you wouldn’t do to show that love, what self-sacrifice you would make for him. As you consider him from Bethlehem to the Mount of Olives as he ascends, what a journey your heart and soul would make with him, accompanying him in all his travels, trials and triumphs.
To try this might open up new understanding for you in your relationship with Jesus. It could even inspire you to a deeper and more “hands on” commitment to him. You could go through every page of the Gospel with him and imagine in faith how that would involve you as his father or mother. What new perspectives it could open up! What new and deeper love it could disclose! What clearer understanding of his truth, his mercy, his grace, his will, his suffering and his glory!
Go and look on the One whom they have pierced and begin by weeping for Him as your only son. And let him lead you then by the hand into the vast and open vistas of his human-divine Sacred Heart.