THE QUIET CORNER

Christianity is a personal act of faith in Jesus Christ

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Sts. Matthew, Mark and Luke, no doubt taking their lead from Christ, denote the Christian life in terms of the kingdom.

The kingdom of God is like a merchant’s search for fine pearls. … The kingdom of God is like a treasure hidden in a field. … The kingdom of God is like three measures of flour. … The kingdom of God is like ten virgins, five wise and five foolish. … The kingdom of God is like a king who gave a wedding banquet. … The kingdom of God is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. … The kingdom of God is like a dragnet. ... Yet in the Gospel according to St. John, the notion of kingdom and even kingship has completely disappeared from the sacred text. In this fourth Gospel account, Jesus even explicitly refuses the consideration of being called a king. “It is you who say I am a king,” Christ fires back at Pontius Pilate. And he furthermore places any notion of a possible kingdom outside of history: “My kingdom does not belong to this world.”

In the Gospel according to St. John, the notion of the kingdom of God is assigned to the person of Jesus. Instead of celebrating a real but still somewhat ill-defined kingdom of God as the synoptic Gospels do, St. John focuses the reader’s attention on the man Jesus. There are seven “I am” sayings in the fourth Gospel. “I am the bread of life” - John 6:35; “I am the Light of the World” - John 8:12; “I am the Door” - John 10:7; “I am the Good Shepherd” - John 10:11; “I am the Resurrection and the Life” - John 11:25; “I am the way, the truth and the life” - John 14:6; “I am the true vine” - John 15:1. The images in these sayings are just as varied as the descriptions of the kingdom were in the three earlier Gospels. But St. John does the Christian reader the favor of going right to the heart of the matter. The central mystery of the Christian life, the central meaning of the kingdom of God is Jesus Christ. Christianity is a personal act of faith in Jesus Christ as a divine person which then opens the Christian to an embrace of the Father and an acceptance of the Spirit. But Jesus is the key. Or in his own words, Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life.”

“The Father and I are one,” Jesus declares to the believer and then he admonishes the earnest Christian, “No man comes to the Father except through me.” The centrality of Jesus, the person of Jesus, in St. John’s Gospel is undeniable. He is indeed the door, the gate that opens onto the mystery of the kingdom, the mystery of life.

In St. John’s Gospel, the exaltation of Jesus Christ as the kingdom of God incarnate is made ever more compelling by St. John’s device of having Christ rise from the dead, ascend to the Father and return to confer the Holy Spirit all in the same day. Unlike the synoptic Gospels that spread the final mission of Jesus Christ over the 50 days from Easter until Pentecost, St. John immediately has the risen Christ bursting with spiritual energy which he is eager to impart to his disciples so that they can continue his work of evangelization. Jesus rose on Easter Sunday morning marvelously transformed so that even a close associate like Mary Magdalene had to take a second look to make sure he was her dear friend. Jesus advises Mary that, as glorious as he might appear, he has first to ascend to his Father before he can share the fullness of Easter life with her or his disciples. Then that evening, a risen and now ascended Christ invades the familiar upper room and commissions the disciples for the work of evangelization: “As the Father has sent me so I send you.” Then Christ gently breathes on his close friends (in contrast to St. Luke who will have the Spirit arrive in a mighty wind) and confirms them in their mission of reconciliation: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive men’s sins they are forgiven them. If you hold them bound, they are held bound.” The risen, ascended and confirming Jesus is the focal point of Easter and its season, the center of the Paschal mystery, the very heart of the Christian life.

The early Christ found in the synoptic Gospels had to win over his audience with the attractions of the kingdom. Jesus' parables of the kingdom and his teachings on the kingdom were indeed compelling and rewarding instructions on life.

The later Christ discovered in St. John reveals that the meaning of the kingdom and the fullness of the kingdom is to be found only in him. Jesus is the kingdom; Jesus is the Christian life.