How can we see Christ clearly?

Those who believe, and live the faith with diligence, are ready to receive Christ; knowing Him for the divine person of the Trinity.  Those who leave the faith at the door posts of the church find, to their peril, that they cannot identify the Christ, instead they believe that God Himself is the devil on the attack.

Jesus is introduced to the reader in the beginning of Matthew’s gospel through a recitation of a lineage that proves Jesus to be a descendant of David, in the line of Judah.  Prophesy of Judah’s line being the tribe which will produce the Messiah was delivered first in the book of Genesis, chapter 49 verse 10.  St. Matthew here is clearly setting a theme that will resonate with his Jewish audience, a theme that will clearly mark Jesus as the Christ.

From even before Jesus began His earthly ministry, St Matthew would give us clues as to the young man’s true identity.  Herod would set out to kill all the male children in his kingdom, but an angel came to Joseph instructing him to take his family Egypt to spare their child.  This does not provide a clear announcement of the Messiah, but Matthews telling of the event does allow us to know that at the very least Jesus is a child of importance, as God does not send such heavenly aid to everyone.

As the stage is set through lineage and angelic visions, Matthew begins telling the reader of Jesus’ ministry.  At His baptism we see the Spirit of God descending upon Jesus combined with the voice of God announcing that this is the Son of God.  The first person to identify Jesus is a very holy man, John the Baptist.  The fact that John lived separated from society, literally “set apart”, speaks volumes to what will follow.  John is thought to be odd, living in the desert, wearing camels hair clothing and eating locusts.  He lived each day preaching repentance to a society that by majority did not know that they needed to repent.  Matthew shows us right away that identification of God greatly depends on knowing something of God.  Knowing of God’s love for His creation is critical for identification of God even when He stands right before you.  As we read one of the earliest Christian authors, St. Irenaeus, we see a man fighting the heresy of Gnosticism.  Among the many tenants of this heresy, there is the firm belief that there are many god’s in scripture, as the god of the old testament, to their understanding, is vengeful.  Such an angry god would never humble himself to become incarnate and walk amongst us.  The Gnostics misidentified Jesus, and through their mistakes we can see that identification of God greatly depends on a proper life and faith.  Matthew takes the reader after Jesus’ baptism into the wilderness, where we witness the devil correctly identifying Jesus as God.  Here we begin to see a subplot in Matthew’s gospel, the fact that all the wrong entities are witnessing to Jesus as the Christ.

Matthew is showing us that belief does not necessarily lead to discipleship.  Many will see and believe but choose not to follow.  So we have two correct identifications, that of the very holy, and that of the very unholy.  This play of juxtapositions will continue through Matthews gospel.

As the devil tempts Jesus, he mocks Him by qualifying his identification of the Christ.  “If you are the Son of God…”.  As we progress through the gospel we see many who will demand a sign of Jesus in order that they might believe. Though Jesus does many miracles that would easily let those witnessing know that He is the Christ, it is interesting on how many want their own personal miracle for them to believe.

Moving from the demonic to the weak, we have the next level of believer.  Matthew groups his miracle stories together, possibly attempting to make a point; as the flesh weakens, the spirit takes us closer to God.  Irenaeus, in his treatise, “Against the Heresies”, makes the following statement on this matter.

 

 

One of these does indeed preserve and fashion [the man]—this is the spirit; while as to another it is united and formed—that is the flesh; then [comes] that which is between these two—that is the soul, which sometimes indeed, when it follows the spirit, is raised up by it, but sometimes it sympathizes with the flesh, and falls into carnal lusts. Those then, as many as they be, who have not that which saves and forms [us] into life [eternal], shall be, and shall be called, [mere] flesh and blood; for these are they who have not the Spirit of God in themselves. Wherefore men of this stamp are spoken of by the Lord as “dead;” for, says He, “Let the dead bury their dead,” because they have not the Spirit which quickens man.[1]

The spirit and the flesh, living side by side, by necessity must unite.  The heretics saw the flesh as a hopeless cause, something to be discarded upon departing this world.  How could Christ be identified if man saw the flesh as a hopeless vat of sin?  Looking upon another human would never conjure any other thought than “sinful and lost”.  Irenaeus saw the flesh and the spirit as held in unity through the soul.  With this soul, nourished by God’s Word and Sacrament, the flesh can be brought under God’s reign, without, the two are constantly at war and chaos will come.  As the flesh fades, whether by illness or a hopeless circumstance, the spirit seeks the Almighty, and He was found and identified this way in Matthews gospel.  The most prominently known of these meetings between the desperate and Jesus is the centurion, who is immortalize within the mass as we identify the blessed sacrament by reciting his words, “Lord I am not worthy that thou should come under my roof but speak the Word only and my soul shall be healed”.  This identification of Christ is one of the first Matthew relates to us that would come from simple flesh and blood.  The weak and humble recognize Jesus first, showing us that if we wish to see Jesus; take up humility and meekness.

As we continue it is worth mentioning that Jesus has chosen His disciples by this point in His ministry, but we have no true confirmation that they understood the divine nature of Jesus; in fact we have a litany of errors made by the disciples that show that they did not know until the end that they were in the presence of God Himself.

Not to be dissuaded by the disciples lack of faith, Jesus would by mid-gospel begin to self-identify Himself as the Son of God.

32 So every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven[2]

St. Irenaeus would be grappling with this passage a century later.  Here we see Christ clearly identify Himself as the Son of God, while at the same time identifying many who simply can’t grasp the idea of God becoming flesh.

And for this cause the apostle, in the Epistle to the Colossians, says, “And though ye were formerly alienated, and enemies to His knowledge by evil works, yet now ye have been reconciled in the body of His flesh, through His death, to present yourselves holy and chaste, and without fault in His sight.” He says, “Ye have been reconciled in the body of His flesh,” because the righteous flesh has reconciled that flesh which was being kept under bondage in sin, and brought it into friendship with God.[3]

 

The flesh that Jesus assumed was purposely assumed that we might be saved, being flesh and blood ourselves; as St. Gregory of Nazianzus famously stated, “what was not assumed is not saved”.  St. Gregory understood the battle between flesh and spirit, as did St. Irenaeus.  But the early Christians, as well as recent ones, fail to understand the necessity of disciplining the flesh so to cooperate with the spirit through nourishing the soul that works to bring them both into perfect unity.

As we read through Matthew’s gospel, we see that he is showing us a mystery that is beyond human understanding.  One that only those who are holy and spiritual can discern.  By this point in the gospel many might wonder how Christianity ever became the worldwide Catholic Community that we enjoy today.  The answer comes through another mystery, the death and resurrection of God in the person of Jesus.  Again St. Irenaeus enlightens this mystery.

And thus, vanquishing him for the third time, He spurned him from Him finally as being conquered out of the law; and there was done away with that infringement of God’s commandment which had occurred in Adam, by means of the precept of the law, which the Son of man observed, who did not transgress the commandment of God.[4]

When man saw Jesus on the cross, knowing Him to be perfectly innocent, they would finally unravel the mystery before them; Jesus was the sacrificial lamb.  This was a mystery understood not through knowledge, as so many Gnostics would believe, but through faith and personal sacrifice.  The disciples, soon to be apostles would soon know that sacrifice was in their future when Jesus, just before His ascension, would tell His apostles:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”[5]

Thus the mystery of Christ was solved, the answer being salvation, as St. Irenaeus states:

The apostle, too, has confessed that the creation shall be free from the bondage of corruption, [so as to pass] into the liberty of the sons of God.[6]

The mystery Matthew was illustrating is that mankind, in order to see Christ, had to put away the things of this world and begin to see God’s plans as the true riches that it is.  God’s plan shown in Jesus’ family lineage and by Christ Himself.  The method to live to God in this fashion shown positively by John the Baptist and negatively by Satan and the Jewish Hierarchy.  God’s riches were shown through the very salvation He offered to all who would correctly identify Christ and follow.

[1] Irenaeus of Lyons. (1868–1869). The Writings of Irenæus. (A. Roberts & J. Donaldson, Eds., A. Roberts & W. H. Rambaut, Trans.) (Vol. 2, pp. 75–76). Edinburgh; London; Dublin: T. & T. Clark; Hamilton & Co.; John Robertson & Co.

[2] Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Mt 10:31–33). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

[3] Irenaeus of Lyons. (1868–1869). The Writings of Irenæus. (A. Roberts & J. Donaldson, Eds., A. Roberts & W. H. Rambaut, Trans.) (Vol. 2, p. 93). Edinburgh; London; Dublin: T. & T. Clark; Hamilton & Co.; John Robertson & Co.

[4] Irenaeus of Lyons. (1868–1869). The Writings of Irenæus. (A. Roberts & J. Donaldson, Eds., A. Roberts & W. H. Rambaut, Trans.) (Vol. 2, p. 113). Edinburgh; London; Dublin: T. & T. Clark; Hamilton & Co.; John Robertson & Co.

[5] Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Mt 28:18–20). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

[6] Irenaeus of Lyons. (1868–1869). The Writings of Irenæus. (A. Roberts & J. Donaldson, Eds., A. Roberts & W. H. Rambaut, Trans.) (Vol. 2, p. 157). Edinburgh; London; Dublin: T. & T. Clark; Hamilton & Co.; John Robertson & Co.

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