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Monday, 3 October 2016

Astonishing Arrogance or Personal Challenge?

"He that is not with me is against me".
In the name of The Father and of The Son and of The Holy Spirit. Amen.

The following is a transcript from an oral serman 
presented by Father Matthew Kirby to his parish.

It is often said that the Gospel of John makes the most of Jesus' divinity and presents his teaching in the most abstract way. All that talk of Jesus being The Light, The Bread, The Life, Glory, Truth and The Word. Whereas, on the other hand, it is said that the "Synoptic Gospels", the other three Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), present Jesus in a more human way and emphasise his moral teaching more than his teachings about himself.

While there is an element of truth in this, there are many exceptions. Many places where the Gospel Of John emphasises Jesus humanity and the other Gospels show of His divinity and there are parts of the Gospels which could be found in any of the Gospels. So, for example if we look at Matthew chapter 11 we have a very famous passage which is quoted at Mass, (Matthew 11:27) Jesus says: "All things have been delivered to me by my Father: and no man knows the Son, except the Father; no one knows the Father, except the Son, and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." Then he goes on to say, "All you who labour and are heavy laden, i will give you rest..." and so on. This verse "All things have been delivered to me by my Father: and no man knows the Son, except the Father; no one knows the Father, except the Son." is very much reminiscent of John's style of writing and yet there it is in Matthew's Gospel. It is also found (i think) in Mark. That kind of categorisation where we say "oh, John emphasises the divinity and the others emphasise the humanity" is a bit of an over simplification. 

There are other exceptions to this general rule. In the Gospel from Luke, Jesus says "He that is not with me is against me". This implies that in judging what men are, the main issue is their attitude to Jesus. That, if you think about it, is an astonishing claim. If it is true it means that something about Jesus makes Him the ultimate standard. It is like saying the world can be divided into two groups, those who are with me and those who are against me and there is no neutral ground. As if that is the one great moral reference point. Everything is measured in terms of how it conforms to Jesus' character and will. Now, if that claim by Jesus is untrue then it is astonishingly arrogant. it stands therefore as a fundamental personal challenge of Jesus to every human being. Like the one he gave to St Peter when he said to him "Who do you say that I am?" St Paul says the written word of God is a sharp sword but so is the one we call "The Word" Jesus himself. He is like a sharp sword. St Paul said the word of God divides, and similarly Jesus himself divides us into the "for" and "against", the good and the evil. He compels us to make a choice. He says here, "He that is not with me is against me". In another place He reverses it and says "He who is not against us, is for us", so there is this great division based on Christ himself, of humanity.

So, Christianity is all about Jesus. That is the case through all the Gospels where we see Jesus presents himself as the central character in history and the one who decides good and evil amongst men. The one who is the standard. We can understand this better if we look at the parallel passages in the other Gospels. This was from Luke earlier but I will read from Matthew (Matthew 12:30-32) "He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters. Therefore I say to you, all kinds of sin and blasphemy will be forgiven, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Whoever says a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven. But whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age, or the age to come." now let us compare this to John (John 8:48-59) "The Jews answered Him, “Are we not right in saying that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?"”. There you go, again the same accusation. In all three passages, we start with the accusation that Jesus does what he does through demons. Jesus answers "I dont have a demon but I honour my father and you dishonour me. yet I do not seek my own glory. There is one who seeks it, He will be the judge. Truely truely I say to you if anyone keeps my word he will never taste death". The Jews said to him, now we know you have a demon. Abraham and the prophets died, and You say, ‘If a man keeps My word, he shall never taste death.’ “Are You greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets are dead! Who do You make Yourself out to be?”Jesus answered, “If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing. It is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say that He is your God. Yet you have not known Him, but I know Him. If I say, ‘I do not know Him,’ I shall be a liar like you. But I know Him and keep His word. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day. He saw it and was glad.” Then the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old. Have You seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”" and then they tried to stone Him. 

Why does he say that? Why doesn't he say "before Abraham was, I was" to say that he existed before then? Well, the phrase "I AM" is the name of God in the old Testament. It translates as Yahew or Jehovah. So, he is claiming divinity here in that very parallel passage. So, this is John's presentation of a similar event, maybe not identical confrontation but it is one of those confrontations where Jesus is accused of doing what he does through the devil. In Matthews Gospel we see he talks about the blasphemy against the spirit. In this Gospel we see that he again makes this great vision. He is saying "I am speeking the truth, I am not trying to glorify myself, it is God that glorifies me because of who I am and before Abraham was, I AM.". Indeed the miracles He performs are confirming who He is and this is the very thing that they refuse to accept. So, all three passages are quoting the Lord's response to an accusation that He is demon possessed. That is the context in all three cases. All three cases show that rejecting Jesus is the ultimate sin because to reject Him is to reject God. This is what He says in all these passages. "You are not just rejecting Me, you are rejecting God, The Father, whose glory Jesus reflects. God The Son, who Jesus is. By rejecting Jesus you are rejecting also God The Holy Spirit, who inhabits and empowers Jesus the man". Of cause Jesus was saying "I'm not doing this by the devil, Im doing it by the Holy Spirit, so when you say Im doing it by the devil, you are not just insulting me, you are insulting the Holy Spirit", that is what He says in Matthews Gospel. So, in each case, in each Gospel it is the same basic message. They accuse Him of doing this by the devil and He says "NO, and by saying that you are opposing yourself to God. It is God who is doing this". 

Remember: He said "If Im casting out devils by the finger of God then no doubt the kingdom of God has come apon you". That is a very suggestive way of putting it. The kingdom of God has come apon you, not the kingdom of God has come TO you. It is a bit more violent than that, the kingdom of God has fallen on you, it is there, it is in your face, and you are rejecting it. 

So, there is this fundamental unity between all the Gospels and they present Jesus as making the same basic response in each case to these accusations. To reject Him is evil because it is not just rejecting him as a man, it is rejecting him as God. Notice in Matthews Gospels he says "Whoever says a word against The Son Of Man will be forgiven" so, looking at Jesus' humanity is one thing but because that is not all there is to him then our response to Christ is a fundamental aspect of who we are. This helps us undersatand what Jesus means by saying "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable but blasphamy against the Son Of Man is not". He is not deminishing his own importance or merely saying a certain insulting form of words about the Holy Spirit is some infinite sin, He is talking about those who can see that Jesus realy is, and have enough reason to know he is, more than a man but still reject him. They would prefer to call the light darkness, and darkness light, to call good evil and to call evil good, than to trust in Him. They saw what Jesus was doing , he wasn't doing bad things, he wasn't killing people, he was helping people, and because they would not accept him they would reject that light, reject the good, the obvious good in what he was doing and therefore their rejection is all the more significant. 

So, we must not be ashamed of the name JESUS. 
Christianity is not just a wise philosophy 
or a radical ethical system. 
It is LIFE. Life from the Lord Of Life himself.

If a church encourages and does good deeds, 
speaks out against injustice, and rebukes moral foolishness 
but does not lead people to Jesus, 
it FAILS. 

For without Him, all our works are dead,
All our words are powerless to transform sinful hearts within.
But with Him, there is truth and righteousness 
and the power of the resurrection.

In the name of The Father and of The Son and of The Holy Spirit. Amen.

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