- Father David M. Knight
We exist to make Jesus Christ exist!
Matthew begins his reporting on the Good News by giving us the family tree of Jesus. What does that tell
Jesus existed from all eternity; but as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, not as a human being. As a human, Jesus had ancestors. And every ancestor contributed in some way to what Jesus became as a human being. Aside from DNA, each one’s life contributed to form the Jewish culture Jesus grew up in. And the culture had an influence on the way the human Jesus felt and thought and acted. Every member of his family tree helped form the man we know as Jesus Christ.
The Jesus we know showed us the beauty of God as a first century Jewish male. But what if God had taken flesh instead as a Chinese woman during the Ming Dynasty? She would still have been the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, but she would have made a very different impression.
In a much deeper way, every one of us is helping now to form the Jesus who will reveal himself in all his glory at the end of time. When Jesus returns, it will not be just in the body he received from Mary. It will be the “whole Christ” who returns: Jesus the head, one with all who have become members of his body through Grace from the beginning of time.
Matthew warns us against taking literally the words of Acts 1:11 describing Christ’s ascension into heaven: “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” “In the same way” does not mean the human body of Jesus will come down from the sky in some particular place. Matthew says about Christ’s second coming:
Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’ or ‘There he is!’—do not believe it… If they say to you, ‘Look! He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look! He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man (Matthew 24:23ff.).
The whole body of Jesus will appear simultaneously throughout the earth. Then his glory as God will shine out in a different way through every human member of his body as the beauty of the sun shines with “unity amid variety” through a stained glass window. This means that as we form ourselves through all that we choose and do in this world, we are letting Christ be formed in us. We are giving shape to the Christ who is to come.
Saint Paul develops this. All Christian life is essentially the mystery of Christ bringing himself to birth and to “full stature” in human beings. He wrote to the Galatians that he was “in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19).
Christ is the “Alpha and the Omega,” the beginning and the end of the mystery of God’s plan for creation. God’s “plan for the fullness of time” which he “determined beforehand in Christ” was to “gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 3:1ff.).
The goal of all creation is Jesus Christ himself, the “perfect man,” the body of Christ, head and members, all of humanity brought to the fullness of perfection in the Church, “which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23).
This is the goal, not only of Christian ministry, but of everything Christians do on earth. This is what gives meaning and fulfillment to our lives.
The gifts he gave were… for building up the body of Christ, until we all become one in faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, and form that perfect man who is Christ come to full stature” (Ephesians 4:11ff.).
It is “in Christ”—literally— that we find fulfillment by letting Christ be formed in us and by helping to form him in ourselves and others. This is the goal and only purpose of lives. At Baptism we “became Christ” (words of St. Augustine, quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church 795). We exist to be Christ and to let Christ exist and be formed in us as his body until he comes “to full stature” in every human being on earth.
That’s what we get from reflecting on Matthew’s choice to begin his Gospel with the family tree of Jesus.
(The “mystery that is history” is more fully explained in Why Jesus?, chapter two: “Jesus is Meaning in Life.” )
Question: Do I believe that what I make of myself is, in part, making Jesus what he will be when he comes again? What does, or should, that motivate me to do?