Sunday, 22 May 2011

5th Sunday of Easter Year A

This Sunday our Lord seems to be rubbish talking—something we are familiar with. Amongst the Chinese, when a person begins to talk about his or her death, the usual response is “Don’t talk rubbish”. But, the context of Christ’s speech is just before the Passion and so it is more than just morbid chatter. There are always implications for being a Christian—his faith will be tested and he will be rejected by the world. In any test of faith, people do get lost especially when things go drastically wrong. Today, Christ tells His disciples not to lose hope or be discouraged but instead to know that in Him, they can be sure of salvation because He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. There is no mistaking the absolute claim in what the Lord says. He is not just any way to follow. He is not simply a truth amongst many to believe in. Instead, He is the only source of salvation and as the 2nd Reading asserts: He is the precious cornerstone.

The absolute claim of Christ also makes this Sunday almost a sin to some people for whom the only Gospel they subscribe to is called the “Gospel” of Relativism. Furthermore, there are not a few schooled in the Philosophy of Sincerity—meaning that it is enough that one lives sincerely [1]—who might consider this declaration to be really arrogant. An absolute claim is a scandal of exclusivity. In an inclusive world, how dare we impose our standard on others?

In light of an inclusive convention that upholds tolerance, the question of how we dare to impose on others seems like a fair enough question to ask but what remains to be asked is if Christ’s absolute claim were inconsistent with who we are as human being? Here, we detect a certain inconsistency in the way our inclusive world is organised. On the one hand, we have come to accept tolerance [meaning acceptance and no judgement] as the most appropriate manner of human interaction. On the other hand, we categorically exclude certain actions from the same canon of tolerance. At best, what we have is an irregular form of tolerance which actually speaks volumes of our inconsistency and which is also part of the difficulty we find ourselves in. Either we arbitrarily choose certain standards to apply which is nothing but caprice, random, anarchy or, we instinctively recognise certain limits we need to adhere too. By the very fact that we seem to exclude certain behaviours from the canon/rule of [tolerance] acceptability—sexual harassment and child abuse are two good examples—that means we implicitly accept certain standards. If we can hold to such moral standards, then there is truth to be known.

But, the reality is we are afraid or we cowed by the political correctness of tolerance to hold no more than personal opinions as the standard for engagement. If one should step beyond the boundaries of personal opinion, “selective” tolerance will consider that to be oppressive. A good example is Christ’s claim which Christians accept to be an absolute that is applicable to everyone. And that is irony of tolerance. Tolerance is not so tolerant after all.

The implication of accepting truth to be no more than mere opinion would be a descent into some form of oppressive “isms”, not just relativism or subjectivism. Pope Benedict says something to this effect that to dismiss truth as unattainable is destructive. When we are incapable of truth, it follows that we are also incapable of ethical values because there would be no standard to measure. Convenience or contingency are measures of our lack of standard as we are often reduced to the lowest common denominator. For example, when human life is no longer a measure of the sacred, then euthanasia is not far off. When we are held together by the lowest common denominator, then, it is power, meaning who holds more power rules as in the case of dictatorship or it is simply the majority who rules as in the case of so-called democracy. Marxism, Nazism and Racism, to name a few, are children of the tyranny of dictatorship or the mob of the majority.

More than ever, today, Christianity must propose the Truth as applicable to everyone because mankind is capable of truth. We are capable of knowing what truth is or better still knowing Who Truth is—Jesus Christ. In this world, scarred by the abuse of power, either by the few or the majority, the manner of our proposal is defined to be the person of Jesus Christ. As Christ stood before Pilate, when faced with the Truth, Pilate continued to pose the question: Veritas, quid est veritas? It was as if Pilate expected “truth” to be expressed through coercion or might. But, Truth who is Christ is revealed in peace and proposed through persuasion not power and conviction, not coercion. This is where we come in. Truth is the Person of Jesus Christ and the Church’s sole duty is to proclaim Him and His mission—Son of God and Saviour of the World. The power of Truth lies not in legions but in the witness of our lives to convince others of who He is: Our Lord and Saviour.

Finally, rejection is not something new to Christianity. Relativism may be tyrannical but it is no more than an expression of “rejection”. And not only that, for Christianity is also rejected by a “tolerant” world for making an absolute claim of salvation. Therefore, Christians must always expect “misunderstanding”. The Protestant pastors in Penang may have prayed in this manner: “Lord, let your reign come upon this country”, the way we pray the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy Will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. It was not about taking over the country. The negative reaction was an expression of rejection as part and parcel of Christianity. Therefore faith has to be tested but Christians must hold on to faith in Christ because He is the only Way [2], the Truth and the Life.

[1] Good intention is not really a sufficient barometer of truth. For example, I can sincerely kill someone. Our predicament is when we are unable to approximate truth, we have to settle for “goodwill or sincerity”. Is it any wonder why in terms of religions, we are now reduced to seeking ways to collaborate in the many so-called “ethical” endeavours? It is ironical that we cannot know “truth” and yet we somehow “know” that there are “good things” to be done.

[2] We all have this instinctive GPS device that is part of who we are and yet it is a device that does not impede our freedom. How many of you use a GPS device? I have mine tuned to an Englishman who sounds nothing like an Englishman. Often enough I would not take the route proposed and when I deviate from it, “Daniel” would get into this irritating mode “recalculating”. The way put forward by Jesus is not a vacuum. He is the way. We can choose to ignore Him or choose to follow Him. That is where the analogy between Christ’s way and the GPS ends. Christ’s way is not an alternative way. Christ is not just one of the ways. He is the Way and if at all we choose to stick with the irritating voice of “Daniel”, it is this: the voice is our conscience telling us to return to the Way, return to Christ. As the 2nd Reading so right says: set yourselves close to him so that you too, the holy priesthood that offers the spiritual sacrifices which Jesus Christ has made acceptable to God, may be living stones making a spiritual house. A house and a home are two different things. Perhaps our journey in life is to come to a realisation that no matter how comfortable this world may be, it is still a house. We instinctively long for our home for that is where we belong and home is not located in this world. Home is not where the heart is either. Home is where Christ is.