This past Sunday the Gospel reading was again from the Gospel of John, and a homily suggested that in the reading sin is associated with failure to believe. It was left hanging for us to ponder.
Many of us have heard the idea that we have to "believe in Christ," but this has been reduced by fundamentalists to an intellectual assent to a proposition, namely, agreeing to a particular identity for Jesus. Does Jesus deserve the title of Christ? That is, a piece of God in a human suit sent to be killed for your benefit? If so, and you if you publicly say so, you get a ticket stamped to a future paradise after you die where you get to be just like you are now but with a spiffier physical body. And this is where many people today head for the aisles or close the door. That model of proselytizing has poisoned the well for a lot of common phrases used in evangelizing.
I don't personally think that's the message at all. I don't think the apostle Paul does either. What if instead to believe that Jesus was the Christ is to believe that we were meant to be who we are and are cherished for that. Not for what we do, the good or bad choices we make or their consequences, but for being ourselves. What if believing that Jesus is the Christ means that we can also move beyond the lines that divide us, beyond the religious and irreligious squabbles, the petty tribal politics that persist even in modern nation states, and into a state of being in which we can appreciate and grow from all circumstances in our lives. To be able to maintain a subtle joy in our hearts and expand our consciousness and conscience into a unity with our Source. Out of many, One, and out of One, many. A wealth of diversity in unity known as Christ.
Kind of a different feel, huh? In this sense belief is expanded to include the idea of support, like saying "I believe in my friend." I think we would all be better off if this latter view is how people understood "believing in Christ," and I honestly think it's what many in the early Christian community had in mind. Look at how they lived. This would be a Gospel people could really respond to without the hang-ups of dogma and doctrine that ensnare so many. Those thing have their place, but they are the servants, not the masters. Research shows people tend to have an intuitive reaction to things and then find evidence and arguments to support their reaction. A lot of the antagonistic forms of religion and irreligion would wither, at least when it comes to Christianity, if this were the Gospel lived out by Jesus' followers.
Which brings me to an Indian/Vedic parable about a holy man and a gem:
A holy man found a gem nearly as big as his head. A passerby stopped and asked what the holy man would be willing to trade for it, hoping to trick the gullible old fool into giving it away for peanuts. The holy man told the passerby that if he wanted it, if it would make him happy, he could simply have it. With that the holy man handed over the gem. The passerby was overjoyed and went on his way, dreaming of all of the things he would do with his new found wealth. That night though, he couldn't sleep, and he got up and went in search of the holy man. He found him by mid-morning. Smiling, the holy man asked if there was anything else he could do for the passerby. The passerby pulled out the gem and declared that he wanted something else from the holy man. He said, "I want whatever it is you have that let you so easily and joyfully give away this gem!"
As some folks say after hearing the Gospel during Mass: The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
How many of us really believe our spiritual teachers and masters? How many of us live what we profess? It's like St. Francis of Assisi famously stated: "At all times preach the Gospel, and when necessary use words."