News flash: Jesus Is Bad News!
As soon as Matthew finishes presenting the mission of Jesus, he tells us it arouses conflict, opposition.
Jesus is not good news to everyone. And he might be bad news to all of us in the measure that we don’t want to be called into “crisis.”
A crisis is a turning point. After sickness reaches a crisis, we either get better or worse. When anything comes to a crisis, the one thing we are sure of is that after the crisis has passed, things won’t be the same. And encounter with Jesus Christ calls all of us into crisis.
We can see that as good news or bad news, depending on how we feel about making decisions.
If we understand our humanity, and accept it, we know that we experience it most fully in choices. Choices are the most important thing we do. By our choices we create ourselves as persons.
God made us “what” we are by creating us as human beings. “Human nature” is essentially the same in all of us. But we create ourselves as “persons”—as the unique, individual “who” we are—by our free choices. When our name is finally written on our tombstone, the meaning it has will be the cumulative effect of all the free choices we have made during life.
Our choices—the way we choose to interact with reality outside of us—determine the relationships we have with this world, the people in it, and with God. This makes us like God. In God, the Father, Son, and Spirit all have one and the same Nature. But they differ and are identified as Persons through their relationships with each other.
We too identify ourselves—and create ourselves—as persons by the relationships we form. That involves choices.
The most important choice we will ever make is our decision about the kind of relationship we choose to have with Jesus Christ. That determines who we are and will be for all eternity.
But we don’t have a choice about whether or not to make that choice. We can refuse it repeatedly, put it off indefinitely, but eventually we have to decide. And every time Jesus confronts us with that choice, he calls us into crisis. Whether we say yes or no, something changes in us for better or for worse.
One purpose of Matthew’s story about the wisemen is to assure (or warn) us that no one escapes that choice. To all of us, sooner or later, and repeatedly, God sends some kind of “star” inviting us to enter into relationship with Jesus Christ. If we say yes, we become divine. If we say no, we are rejecting, not only divine life, but human life as well. We are refusing the responsibility of being human.
Humans are created to know and to choose. That is why we have intellects and wills. To refuse to use either one is a rejection of our humanity. Our intellects are designed to know truth. If we reject divine Truth when it is offered to us, we are acting against our human nature. Our wills were designed to desire and choose the good our intellects present to us. If infinite Good is offered to us and we reject it, we are acting contrary to human nature.
God respects our freedom. When he offers us divine Truth and Goodness, he does not overwhelm us with such total clarity and irresistible desire that we cannot say no. We do not encounter him in all of his infinite Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Instead he sends us “messengers”: a star, the words of Scripture, the Word made flesh in the humanity of Jesus. To all of these it is possible for us to say no. But in calling us to make a choice, God summons us to the fullness of human life as well as divine.
The paradox is, we have to “die” to our human life in order to live it fully. To know the divine Truth of God, which only God can know, we have to die to our human way of knowing, to our human guidance system, and accept to know by the divine light of Faith. Faith is the gift of sharing in God’s own act of knowing.
Faith is the most certain form of knowing. But it can feel like blindness, because, although what we know by Faith never goes against reason, it goes beyond reason, and we don’t have the experience of knowing it by reason. Therefore it can seem to us that we don’t know it at all. By faith we have the effect of vision without the experience of seeing. We “see as in a mirror, darkly” (2Corinthians 13:12). We experience this as dying to our natural way of knowing things in order to know by a way that is not natural to us—that is, by sharing in God’s own act of knowing. It is the acceptance of a higher level of existence—of life—through Grace, the favor of sharing in the divine life of God.
Our nature resists this. We are like people wading out into the ocean: when our feet can no longer get a grip on the bottom we feel we are losing control. It takes courage and trust to let oneself be lifted by the waves; even more to surrender oneself unconditionally to the sea.
God isn’t asking us to stop using our nature or our natural equipment; he is just calling us out into the depths of his own life and activity where our natural equipment doesn’t help us very much, and certainly doesn’t give us control. When he does this, he is calling us into the mystery of death and resurrection in Christ: the mystery of losing our life on one level to find it again on a higher level in God.
To accept that is to pass through the “crisis” of faith. It is a crisis inherent in encounter with Jesus Christ.
We may think that being called into crisis is bad news. But it isn’t. Jesus calls us into crisis because that is the only way we can grow into the fullness of life both human and divine.
That is why Matthew told the story of the three wisemen called into crisis by a star.
(See Why Jesus?, chapter seven: “Jesus Is A Way Of Growth,” and chapter eight: “Jesus Is The Crisis Of Human life.” Why Jesus? is free electronically, available for purchase on paper).
Question: Have you made a conscious decision to accept and live the divine life Jesus offers? If so, when? Did you experience the decision as both human and spiritual growth?