Saturday, November 13, 2010

"For They Have 'Set Out' For the Sake of The Name." (3 John 7)

The third letter from John is extremely brief and focuses on the early missionary work of the Church. It is addressed to a fellow Church member named Gaius and deals with the practical issue of the need to provide support for those who are "on the road", spreading the Good News. While less theological and spiritual in it's tenor, the letter still provides an important glimpse into the fledgling movement and it's own self-perception.

In verse 7 of today's first reading from the Mass, John refers to his missionaries as those who "have set out for the sake of the name." This hearkens to perhaps the earliest self-perception and articulation by the Church of what would later be referred to as Christianity. Initially, this movement was referred to as "the Way."

It is quite interesting to speculate why the early movement chose this mode of self-identification. While we don't know precisely why they chose this "title", it is worthwhile to mull it over a bit and to consider what the implications of this speculation might offer our own following of the Lord and his "Way."

To begin with, Jesus' own self-identification (or lack-thereof) no doubt largely influenced the early Church's self-perception and it's mission. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus largely refers to himself as the "son of Man" (a more prophetic title) and, when referred to by the disciples as "Messiah", he swears them to secrecy! Jesus very definitely was not a self-promoter nor did he want to become a "cult of personality"! Rather, his message, especially in Mark, Matthew, and Luke, focused almost exclusively on the Reign or Kingdom of God. In other words, Jesus promoted a "Way" of living and being and not himself.

A theologian once remarked, "Jesus came and preached the Kingdom and now we are preaching Jesus." This remark is meant to be cautionary in nature. No doubt it is important for Christians to proclaim their faith in the birth, ministry, passion, death, and Resurrection of the Lord (more in deed than in word, however). At this point of history, it may be even more important, though, to hearken back to our earliest Christian roots and remember that we are also followers of a Way of life and, therefore, continually called to "set out" and proclaim God's Reign and Kingdom: the Good News of the possibility and invitation that all be made new. Pat, TOR