by Fr. Jack McArdle
Only God can do a God-thing. The Father sent Jesus to complete the first part of our Redemption. The weeds in the wheat (Mt. 13:25-30) were not sown by the farmer, who had ensured that the seed was good. When God created us, he saw that we were good, and we were good (Gen. 1:26). When the farm labourers asked the farmer where the weeds came from, he told them that 'an enemy has done this'.
The word Satan means 'enemy'. The weeds of sin, sickness, and death, were not part of God's creation. It was to remove these weeds that Jesus came. They had become part of us, and it was totally impossible for us to remove them by ourselves. Even if I could cut off a leg or an arm, my human weaknesses are still part of me, and, of myself, I cannot do a thing about them. Jesus came to take away the sins of the world; he came to heal the sick; and he completed his victory when he overcame death. As far as Jesus was concerned, his work was then completed.
When we speak of Jesus during the Mass, we use the past tense. By your cross and resurrection, you have set us free. Dying, you destroyed our death; rising, you restored our life. Before he died on the cross, Jesus cried out to the Father "It is accomplished", and then he bowed his head and died (John 19:30). He had completed the work his Father gave him to do. On many occasions he had told his followers that he had come with a mission, and that mission was to do what the Father asked him to do (John 6:38). He had now completed the mission entrusted to him.
His next task was to convince his followers that he actually did overcome death. He spent forty days with them, appearing in the most unlikely places, and at the most unlikely times. He asked for something to eat, to let them see that he wasn't some sort of disembodied spirit; and he himself cooked a meal for them, because they had been fishing all night, and were bound to be hungry. These forty days were most precious, and very significant. It was the turning of the corner. He had come to the end of his journey, and was now free to turn around, and return to the Father. Once he did that, the Spirit would come upon us, so that we could begin the second part of the programme of redemption. When Jesus returned to the Father, he would pass on the baton to the Spirit, who would be entrusted with completing the work of Jesus, and direct our feet on the road that leads straight back to the Garden.
St. Paul tells us that there are two parts to our salvation "His blood and our faith" (Romans 3:25). "His blood" obviously refers to what Jesus did, especially to his death on the cross. "Our faith" must be understood very clearly and definitely. At best, my faith could be little more than mental assent, knowing that Jesus is God. If I accept that as something that even Satan knows, I can hardly call it faith, if it is only in my head. Faith is in my heart, and it makes its way down into my feet. When it is translated into action, and becomes a direct response to what Jesus offers me, then I can call it faith. The origin, and the very source of our faith is the work and the gift of the Spirit. When my faith becomes the motivator for my stepping out, when it comes from my feet, rather than my head, then I am ready, willing, and able to respond to the offer of salvation, and to the invitation to return to the Garden.
I cannot overstress the simple basic fact that we speak of pure gift, when we speak of faith, and any quality or quantity of faith. We are extraordinarily weak, because of the damaged nature we inherited through original sin. When Adam and Eve fell for the lie in the Garden, they came under new management. They hid because they were afraid (Gen. 3:8). This is the first time 'fear' is spoken of in the Bible. Because the damage inflicted came from the father if lies, they were no longer able to tell the truth, or, indeed, to recognise the truth. Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the devil, and, in many ways, we tend to do a lot of that since. Jesus called the Spirit the Comforter, the Advocate, and most especially the Spirit of Truth. The Holy Spirit would be the antibody, the antidote, the antibiotic for the pollution of original sin, which was based entirely on a lie.
When Jesus completed his part of the plan of salvation and redemption, it then would become the role of the Spirit to develop in us a spirit of truth, so that we could respond to the freedom that was offered us. "From the Father, I will send you the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father. When this Helper comes, he will testify about me" (John 15:26). "It is better for you that I go away, because as long as I do not leave, the Helper will not come to you; but I am going away, and then I will send him to you. When he comes he will uncover the lie of the world, and show clearly what its lie has been…….I still have many things to tell you, but you cannot bear them now. When he, the Spirit of Truth, comes, he will guide you into the whole truth" (John 16:7-8,12,13). "You will be my true disciples if you keep my word. You will know the truth and the truth will set you free" (John 8:31-32).
To summarise what exactly Jesus is saying here; I have cleared a way for you, back to the Garden. There will be many distractions along the way, as if the evil one keeps turning the sign-posts in different directions, to confuse you, and lead you astray. On your own, you would be like someone dropped into the thickest jungle, without compass, pathway, or weapon for hacking through the growth. The Spirit, and the Spirit alone, can direct your feet out of that jungle, and lead you directly to the Garden. Let there be no doubt whatever about this.
The first step in the process of our salvation was the decision of the Father to send Jesus. The second step was what Jesus did when he came. The third and final step is what we allow the Spirit to do in and through us, so that Jesus' work on earth may be completed. If the Father had not decided, in his love, that we should return to the Garden, he would not have devised the whole plan of Redemption in the first place.
If Jesus had not accepted his mission, in total submission to the Father's will, the road back to the Garden would not have become available to us. If the Spirit did not come to complete the work of Jesus, we would never be able to find that road, or to stay on it, even if we did stumble across it. When Jesus passed the baton on to the Spirit, he also gave us that Spirit, so that we could walk in the light and the power of that same Spirit. The Spirit would do the work, and would enable us co-operate in the work of responding to the offer of Redemption and Salvation; this is not something we could possible do by ourselves.
"That we should live no more for ourselves, but for him, he sent the Holy Spirit, as his first gift to those who believe, to complete his work on earth, and bring us the fullness of grace." With tongue in cheek, I headed this chapter "Popeye's Spinach". I did so, to emphasise that we need a Power greater than ourselves to respond to the gift of salvation. Lucifer, as well as Adam and Eve, were very 'God-blessed' ones. From much personal experience, they knew that God loved and cared for them. It is frightening to think that, even with all that, pride could still enter into the formula.
Only God is perfect, and only that Mary, the Mother of Jesus, was so solidly grounded in humility, and wasn't capable of considering herself superior to God, she, too, might well have bit the dust. She was so filled with the Spirit (of Truth), that she couldn't possibly see something that was not there, or claim something to herself that was not hers by right. She was unique in every sense of that word, and she was walking in the way of the Spirit long before Jesus had paid the price, or the Spirit was made available to the apostles, or to the early Christian community. She herself, of course, had never any doubt where all of this came from. "He that is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name" (Luke 1:49). Humility is truth, and it is a solid-fountain humility when it acknowledges how truly blessed we are. The important point is to realise the source of that goodness. "Lord, you are good and holy, and all that is good and holy comes from you" (Euch. Prayer 2).
It is not possible to exaggerate how weak and frail our human nature is. God is the potter, and we are the clay, the work of his hands. The more beautiful, delicate, and ornamental pottery, the frailer it looks, even to the extent that one might be afraid to take it in hand, for fear of dropping it, or damaging it in any way. To be perfectly honest, I would not be happy if God make us 'unbreakable'!
I believe that it's in the struggles and tensions of life that the Spirit works best. All growth in my life has always been in times of my inner human conflicts, temptations, and decisions of good-will. There would be no value in my YES, if it made no difference whatever whether I said NO. Good, by definition, will always be tested by evil, and the experience of my own weakness is the source of any compassion or empathy I may have for my fellow-travellers on the road of life.
I am continually faced with choices, but the presence of the Spirit can make it possible for me to make the correct choices. An alcoholic could be sober for thirty years, and yet, with one drink, it all comes unstuck, and the sobriety of the previous thirty years counts for nothing. The disease is called alcoholISM; it never becomes alcoholWASM! To the day he dies, John will always be an alcoholic, no matter how long his sobriety has been. Sin is like alcohol-cunning, baffling, powerful, and very very patient.
One unguarded moment, and the whole good has turned to dust. The breath of the Spirit is as necessary for my spiritual life, as air is for the life of my body. I repeat something already stated in this chapter: It is only through the presence and power of the Spirit that I can respond to the Redemption and Salvation made available to me in Jesus. Through the whole plan and work of the Trinity, I am directly depending on the Trinity to become part of that plan. If Lucifer, or Adam and Eve, could fall from grace, there's no reason to believe that I have any chance of avoiding something similar.
I am sitting in front of a computer as I write. There is a light by the side of the computer, which is switched on, because the room is in the basement, and is usually quite dark. Whenever I move away from the computer, for a cuppa, or to go out on some errand, I always ensure that I save what I have written. My ever-present concern is a power-failure. I have learned of the reality of such a thing through many unfortunate events over the years. One second of electric failure, and all my work for the past hour or so is wiped out. Once the power is cut off, everything comes to a stand-still. I still have the computer, in good working order, and a light that has all parts in working order; except, of course, there is nothing running! The power is cut off, and everything has come to a stand-still. I'm sure that, in time, all these electrical gadgets will have back-up batteries installed, which will kick in if the main power cuts out. For many hours at a time, I am not consciously aware of the electricity that I just take for granted.
As I mentioned earlier, there have been times when this smugness led to a rude awaking. I use this analogy to illustrate the ever-presence of the Spirit within my being, even when I am not consciously aware of it. I have a card on the side of the computer which reads "Holy Spirit, please help me". I placed it there to remind me, and I must say that it does what it was intended to do. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit will "remind you of all that I have said to you" (John 16:12-15). The Spirit will be the one who will teach us what we need to know, and who will lead us into all truth. To live in the truth is to walk in the Way. It is when we become hostages to deceit, denial, and lies, that we follow the way that leads from the Garden, just as Adam and Eve had done.
Part of the work of Satan is to disguise deceit and lies as the truth. Part of our sinful condition is that we can be blinded to it, and our rationalisation and self-justification can convince us of anything. Of myself, I have no reason to trust my own judgement, because, even without being aware, I can be quite selective when it comes to truth. Only the Spirit of Truth can keep my feet on the way of truth. The Spirit is like an oculist, who can refocus my vision, and enable me see what is really there.
Jesus opened up the way back to the Garden, but it is only the Spirit who can lead me into that Way, and who can guide my feet into the way of peace. There is no way that I can ever hope to comprehend all Jesus did to effect my salvation, but even after all that, the whole process comes to nothing if I fail to allow the Spirit take over, and complete that work within me. What happened to Jesus happened in Israel. What the Spirit does is what happens in my heart, which becomes my own Holy Land.
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Look At It This Way copyright © Fr. Jack McArdle. All rights reserved.