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Jesus is proof: the Gospel is best taught by example

  • May 21, 2015

Trinity Sunday (Year B) May 31 (Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40; Psalm 33; Romans 8:14-17; Matthew 28:16-20)

Do I matter in the eyes of God? Does God care about what happens on Earth? Does God even exist? These and similar questions have tormented people for millennia. There never was a time when faith was untroubled and clear, and to think so is a sign that one lives in a fantasy world.

The author of Deuteronomy urged his fellow Israelites to look at their collective experience as a nation. He ticked off a list of extraordinary events in their history, beginning with the terrifying experience of God speaking from the burning bush. He moved on to describe their selection as God’s people and the many signs of wonder and power that God had performed on their behalf and God’s repeated saving interventions. After all that, the Deuteronomist observed, was there any doubt that God was the supreme power on Earth and in Heaven?

The obvious conclusion: do exactly what this God tells you to do and He will continue to care for you. Look to your long collective history and then act accordingly. This also applies to individuals. God is always present in our lives but is for the most part unrecognized. Because of this, drifting away from God is a common experience, especially when adversity comes our way. If we take a long and careful look at our personal history, we will find many examples of God’s presence and saving grace. Perhaps at the time we wrote it off as “luck,” “coincidence” or just the way things are, but they were nothing less than the track marks of God’s presence. Recognizing God’s provident care for us should be an encouragement to greater commitment and fidelity and a determination not to bolt and run when we experience life’s hard knocks. Most of all, it should be the first step towards a life of deep gratitude, a quality that is sorely lacking in our world.

Not content with external interventions and displays of power, God gifted humans with the Spirit. The Spirit removes the fear afflicting us — the fear of aloneness and mortality, helplessness and insignificance. We should experience a sense of freedom and beware of the temptation to take the road back to slavery and fear. This is a road unfortunately too well travelled, sometimes with the encouragement of religion. The Spirit invites us to a close and loving relationship with God analogous to parent and child. It is the Spirit itself that enables us not only to recognize God as our Father but to feel and experience it.

God was not through with signs and wonders — the greatest yet was the risen Christ standing before His stunned disciples. They didn’t know what to make of it, and even though they were overjoyed, some still doubted. One wonders if there is any definitive proof that would ever satisfy everyone. Jesus’ words were swift and to the point: He was in charge — all authority had been given into His hands, evidenced by His resurrection. Jesus then missioned them to carry on the work, making disciples of all nations and passing on everything that He had taught them.

There is a caution that accompanies this mission. We cannot give what we do not have, and if we are not true disciples, our attempts to make disciples of other nations can be corrupted by human selfishness, sin and lust for power. The history of interactions between Christian nations and peoples of the New World and Asia is sad and sobering to read and has discredited Christianity in the eyes of many. The core of Matthew’s Gospel is the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes with its emphasis on non-violence, peacemaking, spiritual integrity and forgiveness. These are the teachings Jesus charged His followers with passing on, not only (or even primarily) in words but also in deeds and attitudes. The Gospel is best taught by example. How history might have been different if that had been heeded.

The final words of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel we should cherish: Jesus assured His followers that He would be with them always, to the end of the age. As in Deuteronomy, the Gospel calls us to deepen our commitment to God, who is always present, continuing to accompany us with powerful blessings of mercy and kindness.