The Consciousness of Christ
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, December 10, 2017
The Reading is from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (13:10-17)
It is very important that we begin to consider the two aspects of our faith: one, faith IN Jesus, who he is; and the faith OF Jesus, what moved and motivated him.
The Ecumenical Councils were concerned mostly with the first. The Church’s belief in the full divinity and humanity of Jesus was so controversial that it demanded a response. The Seven Councils responded well: he is both fully God and fully man. That is what I mean when I speak of “faith in Jesus.”
What about the second aspect? What was the faith of Jesus? What did he believe? How can we discern that? The answer is that his faith is revealed through his words and actions.
Richard Rohr and Cynthia Bourgeault put this very well. Rohr writes, “Unfortunately, Christianity became so concerned with making sure everybody believed that Jesus was God (faith in Jesus) that we largely ignored his teachings on detachment, simplicity, nonviolence, and anxiety (the faith of Jesus).” Bourgeault says it this way, “’Putting on the mind of Christ’…is what we are actually supposed to be doing…not just admiring Jesus, but acquiring his consciousness.”
I think Pope Francis pointed to this when he commented that he dreams of a “poor Church.” Christ, in his own words, had no place to lay his head and yet we spend so much of our time concerned about building things. Detachment from this world and its mad search for security through attachment is an element of the faith of Jesus that only a few have ever embraced.
There is, it seems to me, a polarity between what Jesus believed and how the Church often behaves. This discrepancy exists because we admire Jesus and worship him, but we are not always very good at him. Such discipleship demands a deep kind of repentance – a repentance that changes consciousness and shakes and purifies the foundations of our personal perceptions. Repentance is not merely a scrupulous recounting of sins, but a complete change of mind and a letting go of everything that does not reflect the faith of the Lord.
What do we see in today’s Gospel reading?
The dramatic and controversial nature of the events on that Sabbath day in that synagogue is perhaps not grasped by us. A Palestinian Jew living in the time of Jesus would understand just how provocative it was. Jesus heals a woman on the Sabbath in a Synagogue by touching her. It seems to me that this is another act not unlike his overturning of the tables of the money-changers. He overturns religious laws and cultural norms in a sacred place on a sacred day. The ruler of the synagogue certainly does not miss the radical nature of what he saw.
Does this not tell us something about the faith of Jesus, what he believed and held dear in his heart? It was the action of one who loved people over law, who held compassion as his preeminent value, who lived in a way that that reflected a belief that the kingdom is now not later and that society’s norms and mores must now give way to higher values.
Here is how the great Meister Eckhart saw it, “The Ultimate and Highest leave-taking is leaving God (meaning our beliefs about him) for GOD (the truth about him), leaving our notion of God for an Experience of That which transcends all notions.” That is being willing to allow our experience of God to illumine and even supersede our understanding of God.
There have been many who have done this. Let me tell you a story about St. Porphyrios who is a hero of mine. What a great man he was!
After the Feast of Epiphany the Elder was going around the neighborhood blessing homes. He came into the courtyard of a gated home and knocked on the door. A lady opened the door and Porphyrios began to sing the Troparion as he tried to enter. She stopped him as girls began to emerge on both sides of the hallway. He realized then that it was a brothel! She said to him, “Leave, It is not right for them to kiss the Cross. I will kiss and then you must leave.”
The saint replied, “I cannot leave! I am a priest, I cannot go. I came here to sanctify.”
She said, “Yes, but it is not right for them to kiss the Cross.”
Porphyrios answered, “But we do not know if it is right for them or you to kiss the Cross. Because if God would ask me…I probably would say: “It is right for the girls to kiss and not you. Their souls are much better than yours. Leave the girls to come and kiss the Cross.”
He began to sing more melodiously as they came forward and relates that his heart was filled with joy because God had sent him to them. Then he spoke this grace-filled words as if Christ himself was speaking,”
My children, many years! God loves us all. He is very good and allows that rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous. He is the father of everyone and God cares for everyone. Let us make sure to come to know him and to become good. May you love him, and then you will see how happy you will be.”
“I rejoice that God has made me worthy to come here today…”
Do you see just how attuned to the mind of Christ Porphyrios was? No judgment, only love. No so-called righteous judgment, only compassion. No hyper-religiosity, just kindness.
I think we need to see repentance not so much as a turning away from our personal sins, but as a reorientation of our misguided understanding of God. If we come to see God not as far, but as near, and his kingdom not as later, but as now, then new neural pathways are born, neurons that create a new way of seeing and a new way of living are formed. Our lives will be transformed because our minds will literally have been renewed.