Notre Dame Center for Liturgy
Editor, Oblation: Catechesis, Liturgy, and the New Evangelization
This is the third in a series of articles first printed in “Today’s Catholic.”
We are grateful for the permission of the editorial staff to republish them here.
And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord…
What would Jesus do? This question, perhaps innocent enough, reveals a problem in American Christianity. Simply, we tend to treat Jesus solely as a model of human behavior, an example to be followed, a privileged teacher of moral truths and social action. While indeed we are to configure our lives according to the example of Jesus, to love the one who first loved us, we fail to understand the radical nature of this baptismal vocation unless we first understand who Jesus is.
Ironically, the name Jesus itself points toward the folly of perceiving Christ solely as an exemplar of human action. “Jesus means in Hebrew: ‘God saves’” (CCC §430). In Jesus, the Father offers the definitive gift of salvation. God, already involved in human history, dwells ever more intimately among us in the person of His Son, Jesus. Thus, Jesus’ preaching, His healing, His time spent with His disciples and sinners alike, and His self-giving love upon the Cross and subsequent Resurrection is the salvific work of the Triune God. To speak the name of Jesus is to already evoke the saving power of God among us, to offer a sacrifice of love from the depths of the heart.
Jesus is the Christ. Christ is not Jesus’ last name. Rather, it is the Greek word for anointed one, a translation of the Hebrew word “messiah.” In the first century, the messiah was expected as a powerful king, who would restore the splendor to the Temple cult and return a powerful monarchy to Israel; who would enact God’s definitive and absolute reign in history. In Jesus, the true nature of messiahship, of history itself, is revealed. The Messiah is the one who comes to rule not upon the throne but upon the wood of the Cross. History is not the domain of the powerful, the strong, but of the God who loves unto the end. And through Jesus’ messianic rule, all are invited into the Kingdom of God. A kingdom where divine power is revealed in weakness, in self-gift, even death itself. To proclaim Jesus as Christ is to confess that history is not made by those who grab power and prestige at any cost. Real history is made by those who in freedom give themselves over to the Father through Jesus Christ in the unity of the Holy Spirit. God’s politics is not our own but is carried out by those who take up their cross and follow Jesus.
Jesus is the only Son of God. Again, the title is important. Kings, prophets, Israel itself are known as “sons of God.” Yet, Jesus’ sonship is unique. He is the “only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages” (Nicene Creed). Before there was time, before there was space, before history itself, the Father out of love begot the Son. The Son has received everything from the Father, and out of the depths of love, the Son gives Himself back in an offering of Eucharistic love. Jesus is the Son of God, because He manifests this love for us. He invites us into this love in Baptism, such that we are taken up into this divine sonship, becoming children of the living God.
Jesus is our Lord. He is not like other lords: the lord of mammon, of sexual manipulation, of conspicuous consumption, of political violence. He is the Lord of the cosmos. He is the Lord, who enters into our history and transfigures it, bestowing upon it a meaning we could never have found ourselves, a meaning that is love. He is the Lord who enters into our memories through rumination upon the Gospels. He is the Lord who comes to us in the breaking of the bread and in deeds of Eucharistic love.
So what would Jesus do? He would invite us to enter into His very life, to become sons and daughters transfigured by the gift of divine life.