Sunday Reflection with Fr Terry Tastard - 25 April 2010

The Sacrificial Lamb -  by  Josefa de Ayala (1630-1684)

The Sacrificial Lamb - by Josefa de Ayala (1630-1684)

Every so often you read some account of Christianity by an author who claims that the Church got everything wrong.  The story will go something like this:  Jesus was a good man who preached a simple message of God’s love.  But somehow the Church grew into a great big institution and it lost sight of the real message of Jesus.  In place of the simple message the Church created a complicated theology, and we need to get back to the simple message that was stolen from us.  This story pops up every generation.  In recent years, for example, it has been linked with bizarre claims about the Dead Sea Scriptures.  Sometimes it is all spun into a rattling good yarn. But this weekend’s readings alone would be enough, I think, to overturn this shallow argument.  Even in the earliest days of the Church they were pondering who Jesus was, and the amazing implications of his message that in him God’s presence and purpose were being made known and the ancient promises fulfilled.

Take, for example, our first reading from Acts 13.  One thing is immediately clear:  here, in the earliest preaching of the Church, the message was controversial.  Paul and Barnabas were telling the people of Antioch that the Messiah had come.  Not only that, but God was reaching out to draw people from other races and ethnicities into an enlarged, renewed People of God.  It sounds simple enough to us, but to good Jewish people who were brought up to see the People of God as created by descent rather than by faith, it was an alarming notion.  It also called into question the very basis of their spirituality.  We need to be careful here.  There was no question of the Jews ceasing to be the people of God, and their spirituality was (and still is) one that calls them to live by high biblical standards.  Still, you can see that here was something new, and it demanded a whole new way of thinking about what God’s will for man.
Then there is our second reading from the book of the Apocalypse, or Revelation.  This is a vision of the heavenly court.  We see the outcome of what Paul and Barnabas were preaching.  In the moving words of John, ‘people from every nation, race, tribe and language’ (7.9) have passed through the trials and tribulations of life, and are now part of the throng praising God in eternity, free from the pain and sorrow that they once knew.  And the point is this:  the Lamb who has brought them to this eternal homeland is Jesus the Christ.  The very fact that he is called the Lamb is significant. We remember that John the Baptist called Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1.29), words that we repeat every Mass, words that link to the whole story of the Exodus, the escape from slavery of the Hebrew people and the Passover meal.  So you can see, even there in the earliest scriptures, there is theology.  The Jesus of history and the Christ of faith are not separate figures.  Always, we have been challenged to think about who he was and how God was present in him.  This becomes clear even in the gospel according to John, when we hear Jesus say:  ‘The Father and I are one’ (John 10.30).  Now there is material for meditation.

Fr Terry is Parish Priest at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Brook Green, west London.   His new book:  Ronald Knox and English Catholicism is published by Gracewing at £12.99 and is available on Amazon, from religious booksellers and from the publisher.
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