The Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, once said: ‘We live forward, but we understand backwards.’ So, on Sundays and at other times, we go backwards to the life of Jesus, so that for now and for the future, we might become better people, his kind of people.
In Jesus’ time, people identified themselves with being Jewish or Roman or Samaritan or one of the many other cultures and nations that were intermingling under Roman conquest. Jesus himself was Jewish and worked within the framework of being Jewish to call people back to God.
When we celebrate Easter, we celebrate a very particular definition of what it means to be community: We are the people who believe in the God who has been revealed to us decisively in Jesus Christ. This separates us as a community, just as it separated the community for whom the Gospel of John was written.
Our Gospel of John was written over time. We don’t know exact times, but we can understand this Gospel as originating in an early Christian community struggling to separate itself from first century Judaism—that is, sometime between 75-100 AD. In 70 the Jewish temple was destroyed, and John’s community saw themselves to be a persecuted religious minority, expelled from the synagogue, their religious home, because of their faith in Jesus.
The early Christians were also living within a Hellenistic society—meaning that much of the worldview held at that time was that of the Greeks— the way the Gospel of John was written is also influenced by this fact. This Gospel was written to a community in a so that they could define themselves apart from the other religions that were around them. It helped define them as a community.
Things haven’t changed much since then. So how do we define ourselves as Christians now? How do we live as Easter people? Defining ourselves doesn’t mean that we throw stones at others. Defining ourselves means that we live out our lives in a particular way as community so that people can clearly see what being a Christian means
In our Australian culture, we are not persecuted in the same way that the early Christians were or how Christians are treated in other parts of the world. This is nice and comfortable for us, but it often makes it more difficult to show the world how a community that follows Jesus defines itself. The media makes this even more difficult when it highlights Christians that manifest bigotry, hate, and judgment on their neighbours, lumping us all into that category together. How do we continue to define ourselves in the midst of this? How do we show that we are God’s people?
In our Gospel lesson, we have part of the answer. We know the way to the place that Jesus is going because we, by definition, claim to know Jesus as God incarnate—God with us—God’s own son. Jesus was always going to return to God the Father because they were inseparable. Jesus himself was and is simultaneously the access to and the embodiment of life with God. This is our particular belief that helps define us as a Christian community and because of this belief, we are to love Jesus by doing his works and by keeping his commandments: love God and love one another.
How have we defined ourselves in our own community as Catholics? What does it mean to be Catholic? When we begin to lose our own identity, and lose our saltiness, we need to be recalled to the larger community of The Catholic Church and to the extended Christian community.
As Christians, we are not called to be like everyone else and as Catholics, we have our own distinct flavor. What is our identity in the wider community? What do we want to be known for?
The Acts of the Apostles tells us that the apostles themselves branched out from just “prayer and the word” to encompass a wide range of care for others including distribution of food to those widows in need. Look where and to whom Christian organizations reach today.
Sometimes an individual may feel that as one person an “I” cannot make a difference in the world, let alone a big difference. We know from Jesus that is not the case. He left his legacy to his apostles and through them, to us. If we examine the good done in the lives of those fuelled by the fire of Christianity, from the first apostles to our pastor or neighbour or co-worker or even ourselves, we know the Fire is still there, lighting the way and keeping us going.
The truth is that each person does, in fact, influence all those whom he/she encounters, one at a time. Each of us does that with positive or negative results. If we, as Christians, profess to follow in Jesus’s footsteps, we, too, must be “living stones” upon which the legacy of Jesus through Christianity will continue. We must live the Way, the Truth, and the Life authentically… as Jesus predicted his true followers would.