Tokyo, April 7th, 2011
I have arrived on the other side of the world. If my objective with this flight was to discover that all men on Earth have the same desire and the same hope, this land is a real challenge to this! For Japanese people seem to hide some secret that they don’t want to share with the rest of us... I still have a great deal to learn and there is a lot to discover in this part of the world.
This brings me to question myself as to whether this experience I was telling you about – the experience of feeling that God extends a ladder to humans, like the one that helped me get out of the pit I found myself in – could be universal. Could it have come so far that it reaches these people in this land – one that seems so different than mine? I have an intuition, Ignacio, that the response again can’t be found so much in a theoretical argumentation or in a sociological thesis... but rather in the subject we are studying, that is, in the plan and claim of Jesus of Nazareth. To be more precise, I understand power and possibility stemming from the One who claims to be God and not from human efforts. What do you think?
You asked me about what it was that I found in the Gospels that led me to believe that Jesus was or wanted to be God. Well, I confess to you that this question is one with which I have really wrestled. As I have told you, I have studied many religions, many moral and mystical viewpoints... I was fully immersed myself in the life of the great spiritual leaders in order to find out whether they had discovered the meaning of evil and suffering... and in this intellectual itinerary I did not meet any figure that had or manifested a relationship with God like Jesus of Nazareth. Let me relate to you some of these characteristics that surprised me when they were explained me, so that you can get the idea of what I am talking about.
Jesus has, and offers, a special relationship with God
Jesus prepared His followers by teaching them that the word God and especially the word Father, when pronounced by Him, had a new meaning. Applying the word ‘Father’ to God must have caused amazement, saying Abba, i.e. ‘my father’, ‘daddy’, ‘dad’ could even scandalize the audience.
In a text of Jeremiah it is written that God expects to be called Father: ‘And I thought you would call me, My Father’ (cf. Jer 3:19). It is like a prophecy that will be fulfilled in the messianic times. Jesus of Nazareth made it his own when he spoke of Himself as somebody who ‘knows the Father’. Jesus Christ ‘knows the Father’ so profoundly that He came ‘to make His name known to those whom the Father has given Him from the world’ (cf. Jn 17:6). A unique moment of this revelation of the Father constitutes the response that Jesus gives to His disciples when He is asked: ‘Lord, teach us to pray’ (Lk 11:1), and He gives them the prayer that starts with the words ‘Our Father’ (Mt 6:9-13).
Talking with his disciples and His opponents: ‘The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me’ (Jn 5:36). If we ask Jesus about what sustains Him in life, He would answer the same as to His disciples: ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work’ (Jn 4:34). Indeed, only One who considers himself the Son of God, in the real sense of the word, could say this of Himself and turn to God as a real Father.
Are you not surprised by the familiarity of Jesus withGod in these lines which I have just quoted to you? Don’t you ask yourself as His contemporaries did: but, who is this man? I have to admit, Ignacio, that I keep doing so. And I keep asking myself whenever I read a fragment of the Gospels, who is this that speaks about God like this, who says such extraordinary things in such simple terms? Is it possible that God is really as He claims He is and that He is so close? Do we really have this Father in Heaven and on Earth? Jesus talks with such naturalness and seriousness about this God who informs us about our lives by telling us why and what we were born for! He shows us God as Father so that we petition Him as a Father and experience his answer as a Father who is close to us.
But how can I convey this to you, Ignacio, if not by telling you my own experience? How else could you demonstrate to me the love of your parents, for example, or the intimacy of a friendship? And, is this – what you can only show me through what you are – any less real than the science that we studied together?
Jesus frees us from the guilt that is a heavy burden
At that point in my life, when I devoured those texts looking for an answer, the most moving discovery for me was finding out that Jesus forgives sins. What is this? At the beginning I did not even want to talk about sin and even less did I want to talk about it with others. Who could tell me – me! – what was wrong and what was right? Who could advise me how I should behave without having suffered what I suffered? And yet, I began to realize that this Jesus Christ did not talk about moral improvements, about praiseworthy behavior... but rather of an obscurity that would not let me breathe. He was talking about my burden; about my desire to free myself... and this began to interest me.
Precisely this affirmation reflects with utmost clarity the power that Jesus without hesitation claims to possess. This is an example of what He says: ‘the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ (Mk 2:10). He affirms this in Capernaum when he is lead to a paralyzed person and He heals him. Jesus tells him: ‘Son, your sins are forgiven’ (Mk 2:5). The scribes who are sitting there think in their heart: ‘Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ (Mk 2:7). And Jesus, with his knowledge of their spirit, answers them: ‘Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven”, or to say, “Stand up and take your mat and walk”? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins – he said to the paralytic – I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home’ (Mk 2:8-11). The people who witness the miracle, full of admiration, give glory to God, saying: ‘We have never seen anything like this’ (Mk 2:12).
Let us reflect on the development of these events! The miracle of the healing appears as the confirmation of Jesus’ claim. On the other hand, do not forget the scandal of some of those present, repeatedly, whenever Jesus is talking about the forgiveness of sins, as when He sits down to eat with a Pharisee and says to a woman: ‘Your sins are forgiven’ (Lk 7:48). There is an immediate reaction from the guests: ‘But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”’ (Lk 7:49).
The fact is that this sin of which Jesus speaks is what interested me. Not the one I designed in my mind or the one which I was warned about by others, but rather in this profound guilt, this blindness that did not let me see how and where to get to the goodness of things, of my life and the life of those whom I love... in this wanting to be happy despite everything and not being able to do so by myself. And Jesus of Nazareth seemed to talk about this, seemed to know the profound disappointment that I had concerning myself, the wall that was raised around me made of all that I was not able to change.
I don’t know whether you have ever experienced this devastating loneliness that I am talking about, Ignacio, but I am sure that at some point it was difficult for you to look in the mirror because of a pain that you had caused someone or the necessary and urgent good that you omitted to do... and I am sure that at that moment you desired with all your might that somebody would tell you that he could amend it,
that he could reach the goodness of things by passing through the evil you left there; that you are not an impediment to the construction of a beautiful life. And this, Ignacio, to experience this, means being saved. And I have only lived this through knowing and believing in this Christ.
Is not it funny? I needed to be thousands of miles away from you to tell you something that I could have talked about with you any day when, after having finished class, we decided to continue our conversation in the open air. And even so, the journey is not incidental and it also helps me to better understand your question, and the profound yearning of your words... and thus to better comprehend myself and to better offer you my experience.
Before Him, we are prompted to make a decision
We have already talked about Jesus’ relationship with God and His aspiration to save man from guilt. I also would like you to consider the explicit invitation that Jesus makes to His disciples: come and you will see, follow me, ‘believe in God, believe also in me’ (Jn 14:1). Who if not God could make such a radical appeal?
On the one hand Jesus asks for faith, on the other hand we see that some of the men that follow Him leave everything to go after Him. Let us recall the cases reported by the Evangelists: ‘Another of his disciples said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father”. But Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead”’ (Mt 8:21-22). This is a drastic way to say: leave everything immediately because of me. At another occasion when passing by the table of the tax-collectors He spoke to Matthew by almost giving Him an order: ‘Follow me. And he got up and followed him’ (Mt 9:9).
Following Jesus not only means leaving our professions and breaking ties with the world, but also putting some space between ourselves and the irritations of our life or even giving our property to the poor. Many do not limit themselves to simply accepting that ‘follow me’, but like Philip of Bethsaida, feel the need to communicate this conviction of having found the Messiah to the others (Jn 1:43).
There is no doubt that Peter and the Apostles considered and accepted the call of Jesus as a total giving away of themselves and their material possessions in order to announce the Kingdom of God. Jesus gave Himself totally to them and the right response is to follow Him. They themselves are going to remind Jesus with the words of Peter: ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?’ (Mt 19:27). And Jesus himself responds to Peter with all strength: ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or wife of brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life’ (Lk 18:29-30).
But there is no room for deception, Ignacio: Jesus does not hide from anybody that following Him implies sacrifice, and sometimes even the supreme sacrifice. Indeed, He tells to his disciples: ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it’ (Mt 16:24-25). Mark underlines that Jesus and His Apostles summoned a crowd and told them about the renouncement He requires of whoever wants to follow Him: take up the cross and lose your life ‘for my sake, and for the sake of the Gospel’ (Mk 8:34-35). Nevertheless, at the same time Jesus proclaims the beatitude of all who are persecuted ‘on account of the Son of Man’ (Lk 6:22): ‘Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you’ (Mt 5:12).
Who is this that makes such extreme proposals, ones which are, at the same time, so close to what the human heart hopes for? Only the Son of Man, aware of being the Son of God, could talk like this. In this sense it is understood by the Apostles and the disciples who gave us his revelation and his message. And it was in this sense that I understood Him, as well. I kept on asking myself: who is this that calls me to put Him in the center of my life, calls me to follow Him, offers me His company and provides me with such a special relationship to God?
I pass the torch over to you, Ignacio. Not to search is tantamount to renouncing life itself. And to accept a prejudice as a response is like refusing to even enter the battlefield. Look for your own response in all this, whatever it should be, it should be yours!
Your old professor