instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Last week's hypothesis
An earnest young priest meets an older rabbi, and they start talking about religion. At one point, the priest says, "What can we do to get good, religious Jews to believe that the Messiah has already come?"

The rabbi answers, "You could live as though you believed it."
There are, no doubt, lots of reasons why the adjectives "Christian" and "Christlike" are so rarely confused -- or, more seasonally, why the "spirit of Christmas" seems to evaporate so completely by mid-January every year. I heard something in last Sunday's first reading that suggested a new-to-me reason Christians as a class are such lousy witnesses for Christ: the Incarnation isn't seen as all that important.

Why, after all, did the LORD set His Servant as a covenant of the people?
To open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.
To the extent I see myself as blind, a prisoner living in darkness, this news will occupy my mind.

But suppose I don't see myself that way. Suppose I see myself as pretty well set for afterlife. Maybe I'm a universalist, or a Pelagian; maybe I believe that once saved, always saved; maybe I'm just impressed by my own faith.

Having already received my own personal good news, who's the Gospel really for? The blind, the prisoners, those in dungeons. In modern terms: sinners and criminals.

And how important is the salvation of sinners and criminals? How important is the salvation of that SOB down the street who left his wife and kids, or the human dung beetles at work? How important is the salvation of the burglars, drug dealers, rapists, and murderers we've locked up for good reason? Sure, here or there a thunderbolt of grace will save someone, and those of us on the right side will read the story with benevolent pleasure.

But really, for the most part, haven't those people already chosen between life and death? God can save as many of them as He likes, but... not to put too fine a point on it, so what?

We decent folk were going to be saved all along, weren't we? For us, the Incarnation was a formality, Jesus' death on a cross like the breaking of a champagne bottle at the christening of a ship.

For the louses, the moral and societal bums, the Incarnation may be something more, but, not being a louse or a bum, why should I worry about that?