by Fr. Jack McArdle
So far I have been speaking about the human condition, as a result of original sin, and how we can make matters worse, by not facing up to accepting the way we are. We now turn our attention to how God came among us to re-create his original creation, and to make all things new. The big words for all of this are Incarnation, Redemption, and Salvation. He did that because he loves us, and he did it because, quite frankly, we could do nothing about it ourselves. Only the Creator could recreate, and restore things to the way they were.
There is a legend about God, the master composer of music and harmony, and the conductor of the orchestra of the universe. God wrote a master-piece, and he got an orchestra together to perform it. The wind and the breezes were entrusted with the wind instruments, and the trees, grasses, and reeds were given the strings. The sea and the thunder were to take care of the percussion, while the pan pipes, and the larger horns were given to the birds and the animals. There was just one part of the orchestra that was given a free hand, and that was people, whom, God hoped, would accept the responsibility given them, and would blend in with the harmony of the music. The music began, and the harmony was heavenly. The blending of sounds, and the interaction of the instruments, was a joy to hear.
Then, one day, a horrible rasping grating sound resounded throughout the universe, and all of the instruments fell silent. There was a sense of silent shock and horror, as each section of the orchestra wondered where that had come from. Soon the secret was out. It was people, who, through some crazy act of defiance and pride, decided to act independently of the composer, the conductor, and the whole orchestra.
"What will the conductor do now?" whispered the breeze. "Will he scrap the whole thing, and just forget about it?" "He may decide to start all over again," said the trees, "or he may write a different score." "One thing he cannot do," said the grasses. "He cannot go on, as if nothing had happened, because we all heard that horrible discordant note, and it will surely echo down the ages, till the end of time."
And, guess what God did? He reached into all the sounds that had been, and picked out that discordant note, and, using that as a theme, he wrote the most beautiful melody around it, and turned what was ugly and upsetting into a thing of beauty, and a joy for ever. That, in summary, is what God did. He turned failure into success, defeat into victory. He based his whole new plan on the very fault that messed up the first one. God continued to write straight on crooked lines.
I draw three lines on a page, or on a blackboard. On the top line I write the word "God", and further along the same line, I add a letter, and write "good". On the third line I write the word "evil", and, again, further along the same line I add a letter, and write the word "Devil". On the middle line I write the word "humus", which means clay, and the word "humilitas", which means "of the earth". As I look at this, I must remind myself that there is no way that I, as represented by the middle line, can lift myself upwards, towards the good. I am subject to the law of gravity, and, by myself, I can only slip downwards. I need to be filled, as it were, with the helium gas of God's Spirit to be able to have any lift-off power, to rise up out of the quicksand of my own selfishness. That middle line, called humus, for us humans, can be very deceiving, because it is a fact that, by myself, I can do good. Of course, I can. However, it is a human good, and, like everything human, it is mortal, and will die; it just won't last.
A very real part of being human is that I will die, and so will everything that, by myself, I have achieved. Even, already, most of the evil of a Hitler or a Stalin is almost cleared out of the atmosphere of this world, and, soon, please God, future generations will know about it only by reading their history books. An alcoholic cannot stop drinking on his own. His efforts are human, they will not last, and, therefore, you can be sure he will go back to drink again. Unless he joins something like Alcoholics Anonymous, which relies totally on help from a Higher Power, he will not succeed. A tape recorder with batteries will play, but don't depend too much on it, because it will not last, and is liable to let you down at the most awkward moment. On the other hand, a tape recorder that is plugged into a power socket, will continue to play again tomorrow, and won't let you down. In simple English, I do not have within myself what it takes to overcome the weaknesses within myself. I must depend on a power greater than myself, on a power that is other than my own.
I am not good with things electronic, and it is only very recently that I have ventured into the area of the word-processor, and the computer. I couldn't imagine myself ever getting so confident, and so efficient, that, if a computer broke down, I would take it on myself to fix it. No way! I would call in the supplier, or the maker, and expect that such a person, who put the thing together in the first place, will now be able to take it apart, fix it, and put it back together again.
A human being is the most complex of God's creation, and when that system breaks down, I will never attempt to fix it, but will call in the Creator, who will surely be able to re-create his handiwork. Much of this is simply common sense, because, if I'm honest, I must admit that sometimes even the ordinary everyday events of life can be too much for me.
God saw the situation right from the beginning. We say that God is love, and that requires much reflection, to grasp what it means. Love is the ability to meet and accept another where that person is at, exactly as that person is. It also includes being willing to help that person move from there, if, and when she/he is ready. God could have loved me from a distance, but he decided not to do so. He decided to come to where I'm at, to meet me as I am. Like a doctor, God does make house calls! To be in a body is to be incarnate, and, when I die, and leave the body, I will become a discarnate. God decided to take on a human body, to take on our damaged human nature, and we say that he became incarnate, and the announcement of that fact is called the Incarnation, when the angel appeared to Mary, and asked her if she would be willing to provide the body, for that to happen. What that means is, perhaps, best explained by the following story.
It was Christmas Eve, and a man was wondering why God chose to come on this earth as a helpless baby, when, to come in great power, like a six-million dollar man, would surely get more attention, and stir up greater interest. He was thinking about this, when he heard some noises out in his back garden. He looked out, and saw that four green geese had landed in the deep snow that had piled up there over the previous few days. Obviously, they had been flying, with many others, from the north pole down towards the equator, and one had become ill, and, as happens with green geese, a few others joined in, rather than abandon the sick member. The snow in the back garden was piled high, and was very soft, so the geese were sinking in it, and could not manage to move around. He was a kind hearted man, and he was willing to help, even if it meant gathering them into his garage, and phoning some group that could help with such things. We went out into the garden, and, as soon as he appeared, there was total panic among the geese. He opened the garage door, and tried to herd them into the garage, but the more he tried to help, the more the birds were terrified, and were injuring themselves, in their attempts to fly away. The man was really upset, because he genuinely wanted to help, and, for one crazy moment, he wished he were a goose, so he could speak their language, and tell them that he was only trying to help. It then dawned on him why Jesus came the way he did. This way, he could speak our language, and he could show us, and teach us, why he had come, and how he could help us.
You remember me speaking about the raisins in the dough, in an earlier chapter? Well, what Jesus did, was take on all the raisins himself, all of our human weaknessess. One day he came along to the Jordan river, where sinners from all parts were gathering, so that John the Baptist might baptise them in the river, for the forgiveness of their sins. It was very normal for this to happen in those times. Anyhow, when John saw Jesus lining up with the others, he was shocked, because John was a prophet, and he knew that Jesus was someone very special, and totally free of sin. John objected, and protested that it is Jesus who should baptise him. Anyhow, Jesus persuaded him that this was necessary, and that he would understand later on why this had to happen. Jesus then went down into the river, and, at that very moment, he took on all of the weaknesses of humanity upon his shoulders. As St. Paul would say later on "He that was without sin, became sin for us."
And then an extraordinary thing happened. As Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens opened, and the Spirit of God was seen to descend upon him, and God the Father was heard to proclaim from the clouds, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." At the very moment Jesus took on the load of own brokenness and sin, he received an out-pouring of the power of God, that enabled him carry that burden, and overcome each weakness, one by one.
Now, it is very important to understand the point I am going to make next : From that moment, Jesus did actually personally experience every human weakness there is. As St. Paul said "He was like us in all things, but sin. He was tempted as we are...." Because he had taken on all of the raisins himself, there is not a sin you could imagine that Jesus wasn't tempted to commit, but, as he said later, at his trial, "Who can accuse me of sin?" He was accused of being a drunkard, a glutton; he was angry in the temple, and terrified in the garden. If there is a human weakness that you have, that Jesus did not personally experience, struggle with, and overcome, then you cannot be saved. With one struggle after another, Jesus would show that the power within was greater than the weakness he faced.
The three main pollutants, like the weeds among the wheat, that entered the human condition, were sin, sickness, and death. He took on the sin, paid the price, and earned the right to tell me that my sins are forgiven, if I ask him. We say that he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. In a way, he became a scapegoat for us. In some tribes, there was a custom of people coming forward, at a ceremony, placing their hands on the head of a goat, and thus transferring their sins to the goat, which was then driven into the wilderness.
In a T.V. documentary, some time ago, I watched people from somewhere in the Far East, as they gathered by the seashore, each carrying a little home-made boat, complete with sails. The idea was that, through some incantation, they transferred their sins into the boat, which was then placed in the water, so that it drifted out to sea. There is a deep-felt need within the human heart to know and feel forgiveness and reconciliation.
In Jesus' time, a lamb was sacrificed for the forgiveness of sin, and John the Baptist, being a prophet, announced to his followers, as he pointed to Jesus, "There's the Lamb of God...there's the one who takes away the sins of the world." All of us have one human weakness in common, we will all die. And so, death was the final enemy that Jesus had to overcome. Barabbas, who represented us sinners, walked away, scot-free, and Jesus took his place. The cross that was on Calvary was one that had been prepared for Barabbas.
Maximilian Kolbe was in a Nazi concentration camp, when a man was being taken out to be executed. This man had a wife and family, and Maximilian, a Franciscan priest, stepped forward and offered to take the man's place. His offer was accepted: he died, and only a few years ago we saw the pictures on our television screens of that same man, now very old, crying at the ceremonies in Rome when Maximilian was declared a saint. That man had experienced real love, and he could never forget it. It would be easy enough for him to understand what Jesus did for us, when he took our place on Calvary.
A young lad, who was reared by the sea, developed a fascination for boats. One day he decided to get a piece of timber, and carve a small boat for himself, as a toy. He worked long and tediously on the task, and, eventually, the boat began to take shape. He worked with great love, and his mind worked through his fingers, as he shaped the boat of his dreams.
When he was finished, he painted it his favourite colour, and put sails of brilliant white on it. Now, at last, his work was complete. However, it was a boat, and he knew that boats belong in water, so he brought it down to the seashore, and placed it on top of the water. It was a joy to behold, and he turned to call his friends to come see the beauty of it, as it danced on the water. When he turned back, he was shocked, because, having sails, it had already begun to move out into the water, and was now beyond his grasp. In desperation, he called it by name (he had given it a name), forgetting that, of course, it wasn't about to turn around and come back to him.
The sails were like our free-will, and he could no longer control it, as it drifted further and further away from him, out into the deep. He stood motionless, with a pain in his heart, and tears in his eyes, as he watched it vanish from his sight. He slept very little that night, as his heart was heavy, and the thought of the boat was always on his mind. It was weeks later, and the thought of the boat was still fresh in his mind. He was down town, and looking in the shop windows. Suddenly, his heart missed a beat, and his mouth opened in amazement, as he looked in a window, and guess what, there was his boat among a display of toys. He was riveted to the spot, and, finally, he came out of the shock, dashed into the shop, and asked for the boat, his boat. The shopkeeper said he had bought it, and it was now his, and, if the boy wanted it, he would have to buy it, just like the other items in the shop window.
The boy rushed home to his father, told him about the boat, and asked what he should do. The father asked him if he really wanted the boat, and he said he certainly did. His father told him that, if he wanted the boat, he would have to buy it, and when the boy asked him how much he should pay for it, he was told that, if he wanted it badly enough, he should be willing to give everything he had to buy it. The boy immediately gathered up every money box he had, emptied them all into one box, ran down to the shop, placed the whole lot, without counting it, on the counter, and asked for the boat. When he got, he rubbed it, kissed it, polished it, and ran all the way home, to show it to his father. "So," said his father, "the boat is now yours?" "Yes," said the boy "it's now mine, except now it's mine twice over, because I made it, and then I bought it back, and I gave everything I had to get it."
And that is what Jesus can say about you and about me. "You are mine twice over, because I made you, and when you were lost, I found you, bought you back, and I gave everything I have to get you back." In the following chapter I will speak in more detail about how this happened, and how I can best co-operate with that. You see, there is nothing automatic about God, and he is super-sensitive to my free-will, to my right to decide for or against what he has in mind for me. God won't send me anywhere when I die, rather will he eternalise the decisions I make now, and the directions in which I choose to travel now. He does not give me anything,.....he offers me everything. It is totally up to me whether I accept that or not. He stands outside the main door of my life, with hat in hand, as it were, and he will not come in until I open the door, and ask him to enter. Some people reach skid row, as helpless alcoholics, before they cry out for help. Incarnation means that God comes to where you're at, even if that is skid row. It is not possible for a person to cry out to God, and not be heard.
Jesus is the farmer who has come to take care of the weeds among the wheat, and to harvest the wheat itself. We are the servants, and he told us that if we ourselves attempted this, we would end up destroying the wheat as well. As I said earlier, as the Lamb of God, he made it possible for us to seek and receive forgiveness for our sins. He showed, on many occasions, that he had full authority over the demons, as he ordered them, and they obeyed. He healed the sick, calmed the storms, and raised the dead. As I've said already, the one raisin that each of the scones has in common, that we all share, is that we will all, one day, die. We are mortal. And so, the final enemy was death, and Jesus had to take on this one as well. When he went down into the river Jordan, and took all of our weaknessess upon him, he took an enormous risk, because if the Father had not released the power of the Spirit at that time, Jesus would not have come up out of that river. He was genuinely like us, where he had put his divinity to one side, rather than carry it in his back pocket for emergencies.
His second great risk was when he bowed his head in death, trusting that the Father would be there for him, and see him through. Most of what Jesus told us had to do with the Father's love and care for us. It was very important, therefore, that he himself show that his Father can be trusted. Anyhow, he passed through death, and came out safely on the other end, and returned to spend forty days with his apostles, to convince them, beyond all doubt, that, yes, he was alive and well. It was vital that Jesus prove convincingly that death was not the end, and that the best was yet to follow.
The final chapter of this series will discuss this whole question of death in greater detail. For now, however, I want to stress that this was one of the more serious weeds among the wheat, and certainly is something that brings us, sooner or later, smack bang up against just how powerless we are. Jesus wasn't brought back to life, as Lazarus was, who still had to die. Jesus passed through death, into a life in which death is non-existent. "Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life." Because of what Jesus has done, there is nothing impossible for us any more. If we accept the offer he makes, and join in the victory he offers, then we are free, we are no longer slaves to the weaknesses within us, we are redeemed, we are saved.
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Come 'Ere Till I Tell You copyright © Fr. Jack McArdle. All rights reserved.