Saturday, December 25, 2010

Being a Christian as a Collective Vocation

Exegetical Reflection on the Gospel of the Feast of the Holy Family, Year A, Matt 2:13-15. 19-23

We are now living in a time of globalization, and for all its advantages and disadvantages, its benefits and evils, it is likely to prevail in the coming decades. As James Wolfensohn, president of World Bank, claims in an interview with Reuters and Reuters Television, globalization cannot be turned back; it needs to be better managed, however, so its benefits are felt around the world. Indeed, globalization demonstrates that the world is really one global city; what happens on one side of the globe is now being felt on the other. The economic repercussions of the suicidal attack on the twin-towers in Manhattan, for example, were felt around the world; no country is an island; each one is part of the main. No wonder the thrust now is to go global. Even terrorists know this. Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, considered to be Osama bin Laden’s mentor, confidant and chief accomplice, is said to be convinced, for example, that to establish Islamic rule throughout the Arab world, a worldwide jihad against infidels is necessary.

The awareness that the world is one family is a welcome development. It is ironic, though, that in the face of this realization, there are still many Christians who refuse to acknowledge that in religion, we are also one family of God. It is not uncommon for many Christians, even Catholics, to think that being Christian is an individual call, believing that faith is simply a matter between God and him. The question---favorite among born-again and fundamentalist Christians--“Have you accepted Jesus as your Lord and personal Savior?” is popular enough, and accepted with hardly any objection, indicating that many are not bothered by the mere individualistic approach to Christian faith. The result, of course, is far reaching. For example, we find families whose members belong to different Christian denominations. There are other families, the father of which prefers to go to the cockpit on Sundays, whereas the mother is almost crazy about her charismatic experiences, while the daughter feels at home with her fundamentalist peers. We have Catholics for whom it is enough to pray to God in the privacy of their homes, but who never bother about being one with their co-parishioners at the Sunday Eucharist and on action in behalf of justice and peace.

That all of us, believers, form one global family of God is the theme of today’s Gospel (Matt 2:13-15. 19-23). At first blush, it would seem that the account is simply about the flight of the holy family—Joseph, Mary and Jesus—to the land of Egypt to escape from the persecution of Herod the Great. It will be recalled that, according to Matthew, the Idumean king felt he was deceived by the Magi about the new-born king, and to make sure that he had no rival to the throne, he ordered the massacre of all boys two years old and under in Bethlehem and its environs (Matt 2:16). Anticipating the king’s decision, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, and commanded him to bring the child to Egypt. So, the family stayed there until the death of Herod, and Matthew appended the quotation from Hosea (Hos 11:1) to say that this happened in fulfillment of the prophecy “Out of Egypt I called my son” (Matt 2:15b). But what does this citation mean to us Christians? In Hosea, God speaks of himself as a father, and considers Israel his son. God loved Israel from the beginning, and at a time when he was helpless (Ezek 16:4-14), his love for Israel moved him to care for him. He rescued him from the Pharaoh of Egypt, who oppressed him. In quoting from Hosea, however, Matthew probably had in mind the Christian community. For just as in the Old Testament, God called the Israelites from Egypt, led by Moses, so in the New Testament, God called Jesus, the new Moses, to redeem us from the Egypt of sin and slavery to it, and establish a new people, the renewed Israel, the Church.

To create a new people that eventually became the Church—this is the reason for Jesus’ coming. He became incarnate to make us a new family of God, distinguished for its unity in Christ and love for one another in the manner of Jesus (John 13:34-35). This dimension of the meaning of incarnation should not be missed. Of course, there is the sacrificial aspect of his coming; he saved us by offering his whole life, but especially by his passion, death and resurrection. But it is equally important to underscore the vision Jesus himself had in mind—the establishment of a community of brothers and sisters who hear and act on the will of God in Jesus, a community that arose from the side of his death and resurrection. In Christian theology, one becomes a member of this family through the baptismal bath. In this new community, each member, according to Paul, clothes himself with Christ, taking up his manner of life and death. Since all are sons of God in Christ, there is no more Greek or Jews, slave or free, male or female. All are one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:26-28) in this family of God.

This is the family to which all are called. One is not a Christian apart from this family. Hence, there cannot be individual Christians. Since Christians can be found anywhere in the world, Christian believers therefore form a global family. Indeed, we have been global even without our realization, and long before businessmen spoke of globalization. This global family of God has a distinctive way of life, which one cannot experience if he remains an individual Christian: “Because you are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with heartfelt mercy, with kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Bear with one another, forgive whatever grievances you have against one another. Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you. Over all these virtues put on love, which binds the rest together and makes them perfect. Christ’s peace must reign in your hearts, since as members of one body you have been called to that peace. Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness. Let the word of God, rich as it is, dwell in you. In wisdom made perfect, instruct and admonish each other. Sing gratefully to God from your hearts in psalms, hymns and inspired songs. Whatever you do, whether in speech or in action, do it in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col 3:12-17, 2nd Reading). This rather long quote is part of a catechesis of what it means to belong to the family of God. Being part of this renewed Israel demands a new form of relationship within the community that reflects that status.

As we celebrate the holy family today, it is worth emphasizing that what we find in the global family of God—its goal, its purpose, its lifestyle, etc.—must be reflected in our human families, because the family after all is the smallest unit of the family of God. That is why in today’s 2nd Reading, Paul draws some implications of living in the family of God for Christian families: “You who are wives, be submissive to your husbands; this is your duty in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives. Avoid any bitterness toward them. You children, obey your parents in everything as the acceptable way of the Lord. And fathers, do not nag your children lest they lose heart (Col 3:18-21). Since the family must exhibit the lifestyle of the global family of God, it is clear that as a member of a family, one cannot exercise Christian life in a solitary manner. To walk “in the Lord” is always to walk with the family members, that is to say, in a collective manner. This is a way of saying that an individualistic Christianity is a contradiction in terms.

No comments:

Post a Comment