3rd Sunday of Lent B
The Gospel ends in a strange way. Jesus “did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.” He gets us. He knows that we love the show, the easy way. You see Jesus has an interesting frustration. It is not that he is failing. People are flocking to him. But they are coming for the wrong reason. They are coming because of the great and powerful deeds known as signs in John’s gospel. And what is wrong with that? Isn’t that what athletes want? Isn’t that what performers want? Homilists? But it isn’t what Jesus wants.
That is what scholars have identified as sign faith. The people Jesus is attracting are caught up in the signs. We like to be around cool people doing cool things. Besides, if you are ailing, he will heal you, if you are hungry, he will feed you. He can even make water into wine and who would not want to be around a guy like that. But like any sign, these miracles are meant to direct you somewhere. Jesus is constantly pointing to the Father, the kingdom and indeed even himself. But they do not look where he is pointing, they only look at the finger that is pointing. And that is not enough. Jesus wants people to have faith not in what he does, but in who he is.
What do you out your faith into? Jesus is acknowledged universally as a moral guide and his teachings have been adopted, at least in theory, throughout the world. And many see this as central to knowing Christ. What he did was remarkable. He took the Ten Commandments, the heart of the law of Israel which he treasured and expanded those beyond the “thou shall nots” and married them to a positive vision of mercy and love. We have found in Jesus the right way to live. But that is not enough.
Do you put your faith in politics? It is usually said that you should never talk about religion or politics. But it seems to me that everyone is talking about politics and no one is talking about religion. It speaks to our priorities. People align themselves with a D or an R and expect to find solutions to what troubles us. Jesus was aware of politics. The cleansing of the Temple is a political act. He did not expect to become the high priest. He found a dramatic way to make a point. And certainly the Gospel has a political outgrowth and consequences, but it not meant to be a football tossed between factions with all claiming ownership of it. A good politics is essential to a better society and we must strive for it. But that is not enough.
Even believing in our beliefs is not enough. In a few minutes we will recite the creed, an important moment that details the critical parts of our faith that we profess to be true. But even saying we believe in the doctrines that bring shape to our faith is not enough to make us a Christian.
What makes us a Christian is what Pope Benedict XVI stressed so much that it was as central to his papacy as mercy is to Pope Francis. What makes us Christian is faith in a person, the person of Jesus Christ. Nothing else will suffice. Love Jesus and the rest are details. Why else would God have made his perfect revelation in Jesus Christ? Why else would the Word of God taken flesh unless it was for us to know him, to have a relationship with him? Fr. Leo likes to say that you cannot love something that cannot love you back. A moral code cannot save, politics will not redeem you and doctrine cannot love you. But Jesus can and he loves you perfectly.
We are almost halfway through Lent. I know because I am on a diet. Let’s make a plan for the rest of Lent. Let us focus on one thing – falling in love with Jesus Christ. Let us deepen our trust in him and feel his love. Don’t make Lent about what you have given up or your discipline or your abstaining from meat. That would be confusing the sign for the destination. Wouldn’t it be a great Lent that when Easter came you could say that I am closer to Jesus than ever before? After all, Christianity is but one thing – faith in a person, our Lord, Jesus Christ.