You Are Our Letter Written On Our Hearts By Christ
by Fr. Rufus Pereira
Letters of recommendation are needed today both in the secular world to get a job and in the church to carry out a ministry outside one's parish. Paul himself had asked the high priest for introductory letters to the synagogues in Damascus, in order to bring the Christians he found there as prisoners to Jerusalem (Acts 9:2). In the churches that had sprung up in his time, it was customary to introduce a church leader and testify to his character to avoid the danger of an impostor teaching some strange doctrine and a swindler making money out of the simple Christians. But now in writing to the Church of Corinth he refuses to ask from them or to give them letters of recommendation, because he does not need them as some people do.
Paul's reason is straightforward and forthright: "For you are our letter. You are the letter written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. It is plain to see that you are a letter written by Christ himself, and the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of beating human hearts" (2Cor 3:1-3; Jer 31:33). The only testimonial Paul needs is the Corinthians themselves. The great change in their character and life is the only recommendation that he needs.
A good teacher is not one who writes books in ink but one whose message is inscribed on men's hearts. Every man is an open letter for Jesus to write on and every Christian is an advertisement for Christianity. Men will judge Christ by his followers and the Church by its members. Gandhi once said that he loves Christ but not the Christians. When we leave home each day for the office or shop or school or hospital, we have the awesome but humbling responsibility of being open letters and advertisements for Christ and his Church. Men will know that we are his disciples if we are honest proclaimers of his word, if we are genuine channels of his love, and if we make a difference in their lives.
While Mathew's Gospel was meant for the Jewish Christians and to reach out to the Jews, and Mark's Gospel was meant for the 'Roman' Christians and to reach out to the Romans, and Luke's Gospel was meant for the 'Greek' Christians and to reach out to the 'Greeks', John's Gospel was meant for all the second generation Christians, perhaps like our modern Sunday Catholics, whose faith had perhaps become weak, whose love had grown cold and whose stand had turned timid. In three specific verses Jesus challenges his disciples and especially his apostles on three issues, and now John confronts his Christians with the way they were living which will fail to attract new Christians, and mentions three crystal-clear ways in which they need to be and can be a showpiece for Christianity by the word they speak, the love they live and the zeal they show.
Firstly, even though, as John deliberately mentions, Jesus was speaking to the Jews who had believed in him, he still told them clearly and categorically, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples" (Jn 8:31). In other words, they could not call themselves his true disciples unless they not only welcomed his word to make its home in them but also decided to make his word their home (to use the Jerusalem Bible translation), and were therefore abiding in it.
That would involve their being firstly very familiar with his Word, just as there is no place one is more familiar with than one's own home, then loving and being felt loved by his Word, just as there is no place which one loves most and where one feels most loved than a home, and finally deriving strength and power from that Word to live one's daily life, just as there is no place where one derives so much comfort and confidence than a home. For only then would they know the real and absolute truth, which would enable them to live as the sons of God, free from every burden of doubt, sadness, guilt, fear and anxiety (Jn 8:31).
In the same way the Bible has even today a solution for every human problem. But it is only when we are familiar with the actual text, as Dei Verbum, the Vatican Council document on Divine Revelation, urges us to be, understanding it as God's unambiguous message to us, and then believing it as his solemn promise, and finally claiming it or acting on it, that we then become the open and living Bible for all to read, by the way we speak and act and relate, and even by the way we look. I used to witness such a transformation taking place in each of the Bible students, when I was the Director of the Catholic Charismatic Bible College in Mumbai some years ago, by their daily sharings on the Word, in their personal growth and in their relationships within the Community.
Secondly, while the three Synoptic Gospels narrate the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper in dramatic detail, John prefers to translate the mystical meaning of what is the anticipation of the Crucifixion, an once for all event of the mystery of the Cross, into the down to earth everyday event of one carrying one's cross daily, even unto one's crucifixion, by the incredible and perplexing gesture of the master washing the feet of his servants, thus breaking all natural divisions of caste and creed and man made barriers of status and position.
Seeing the bewilderment and hearing the protests of his apostles, Jesus then gives a running commentary on his own gesture. If he their Lord and Master has washed their feet, they should do the same to one another, and they will be truly blessed by their Father (Jn 13:14-17), for only then would they become an advertisement of Jesus living in them. "As I have loved you, so you must love one another. All men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (Jn 13:34,35). He would then no longer call them servants but friends, for then they would really be his friends if they imitated him (Jn 13:14.15). True discipleship must therefore be expressed in service to suffering humanity, just as the Master did not come to be served but to serve, even to give his life as a ransom for many (Mt 20:28).
It is therefore not surprising that India gave Mahatma Gandhi a state funeral, not just because he was the father of the nation but also because his struggle for India's independence by non violence, inspired by Jesus' teaching on forgiveness in Luke 6:27-36, made a tremendous impact on the entire world, making Time magazine nominate him, together with Albert Einstein, as the Man of the Century. But it was more astonishing that India gave the foreign born Mother Teresa too a state funeral, precisely because she brought honour to her adopted country, in her role as a missionary of charity and an apostle of love to all the nations, thus meriting to be hailed as citizen of the world.
What motivated her, as she incessantly confided, was not just her love for Jesus, but her love for Jesus seeing him especially in the abandoned babies and the dying destitutes of very nation and culture. Our best claim too to be disciples of Jesus and our advertisement that we are so, is that we are all living as sons and daughters of our one Father God and as brothers and sisters of the one of whom God our Father said, 'This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him'.
Thirdly, Jesus says specifically to his apostles "I have chosen and appointed you to bear fruit that will remain," for without them he will not do anything (Jn 15:16). But what is amazing is the double reason he gives for his decision, "If you bear much fruit my Father is glorified and you show yourselves to be my disciples" (Jn 15:8). The secret of their success is that they remain in him, for he will then remain in them, since without him they cannot bear fruit (Jn15:4). He also assures them of success, because the Father will give them whatever they ask in his name (Jn 15:16). The Spirit that he will send them is the Spirit of truth that will help them to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth, which is the motto of the Youth Congress next year in Sydney, Australia, by going to every country, preaching to every nation, healing the sick and liberating the oppressed (Jn 15:26,27; Mk 16:15-20; Acts 1:8).
The Lord is speaking the same words to us today. On the one hand we can do nothing without him but on the other hand he will not do anything without us. People will see Jesus in us by the zeal we show in spreading the Gospel. Pope John Paul II has shown us the way by visiting so many countries during his pontificate to proclaim the Good News of Salvation. Mother Teresa travelled all over the world, being invited even in communist countries, to bring the Gospel of Love, just as Jesus went to very town and village in Galilee, bearing fruit for the Kingdom of God through his double ministry of proclaiming the Good News to the poor and praying for the sick and the burdened. Already when he was just 12 years old he had expressed his concern and shown his zeal for his Father's business - man's salvation and happiness.
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