Sunday, November 18, 2012

It has to be Him

‘Anyone who rejects you rejects me.’ This is a mighty word of Jesus, and it has become a stumbling-block for both the world and the Church. The missionaries go forth to the world spreading the gospel message with varying success and failure. Success is sometimes achieved by enticements or the display of power. The Orthodox to this day report with pride that the conversion of the Slavs came about because the emissaries of the barbarian prince were awed by the splendor of the Divine Liturgy in the great church of Holy Wisdom in Constantinople. This is used as a kind of historical bait, as well as trophy, by modern Orthodox Christians. Why then don’t today’s barbarians come flocking? Maybe there’s more to the message of the gospel than mystic splendor.

‘Anyone who rejects you rejects me.’ History tells a sad tale of the spread of Christianity, in large part because those who spread the gospel used bible texts as bastions and towers, even against the truth. What truth? There can’t be any truth outside of the gospel, so there isn’t. ‘If anyone wants to follow me, he must renounce himself, take up his cross, and follow me.’ There can’t be anything good among those we want to convert. They must renounce it all. Give it all up. No works done before regeneration, nothing they had before we brought them the gospel, can they keep. It must all be trashed. That’s their cross. Now, after they’ve killed everything in themselves that comes from their foul ancestors, they can follow us—which means, of course, follow Christ.

‘Anyone who rejects you rejects me.’ The Lord is here saying, in a religiously ironic way, that the message is, in effect, not a set body of knowledge, an ‘information virus’ as some have called doctrinal Christianity, but somehow a personal encounter. Though there is a body of knowledge, even saving knowledge, it can’t be handed over, transmitted, until there is a receiver. That receiver is produced not by tinkering with men’s minds, but by re-imaging their hearts, and that can only be done by a personal encounter. What kind of encounter? Well, the only encounter that matters, a personal rendezvous with Jesus Christ, who is who He says He is: Lord, Savior, even God. If there is a virus His ambassadors carry, it is no mere information. It has to be Him.

‘Anyone who rejects you rejects me.’ Why do they reject, and who or what is it that they are rejecting? Human beings are rational animals, reasoning souls. In the Akathistos Hymn, St Romanos calls the saved Christ’s ‘logical flock.’ How did they get that way? Isn’t it because humanity is, though somehow fallen, the image of God on earth? Isn’t it because they are, in some mysterious way, God-bearers without knowing it? Isn’t Christ telling us, when He speaks of rejection, that the message we are to bring, the good news, is something really more than mere words, that it is the Word Himself, not something that can be rejected, but Someone? And who, then, can reject that Someone, who is love itself in the form of a man? Who rejects love? Is it they, or we?

‘Anyone who rejects you rejects me.’ No, brethren, there is no room for rejection when what we bring to the world is Christ, not as an imperial proclamation, but as a marriage proposal from the King of Glory, whose Kingdom is built not on men’s backs, mortised with their sorrows, tenoned with their fears, and roofed with false authority. The messengers must first themselves be receivers before others can become what they are. Why do great souls reject the gospel? ‘I will become a Christian when I see one.’ Are words such as these an attack on the Church and its work? No, brethren, but they are a judgment on us who claim to be what we are called to be, saints, that is, receivers of the message, ambassadors of God, even Christ-bearers. Is He really with us?

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