It’s amazing how quickly news is spread these days. Reports of the bloody conflicts in the Middle East, Europe and Asia are sent globally and instantly thanks to fighters who use i-phones as weapons. This era of tweeted world news makes me wonder why God didn’t wait until now to deploy Jesus. After all, our Lord could have blogged the beatitudes to a global audience from the comfort of a Holiday Inn.
Preview this Sunday’s readings and you can see why he chose the time he did. Jesus was a master craftsman who used only the best raw materials in the carpentry Joseph taught him. It was the same in the ministry his heavenly Father taught him. Those earthly raw materials used by craftsmen—like granite, marble and cedar—took centuries to develop the properties that gave them their structural integrity. So did the raw materials of Jesus’ teachings—human muscle, blood and spirit. And he selected only the finest from both realms with which to build.
Read, for example, what the Lord told Moses in our first reading from Leviticus, Chapter 19: “Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus took spiritual building blocks like that, formed centuries before him, and built his teachings upon them in his earthly ministry. A perfect example is this Sunday’s gospel passage from Matthew, Chapter 5:
“You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good.”
Would that message have resonated if started in cyberspace today? I don’t think so. In fact, turning the other cheek still doesn’t fly with most people—as evidenced by those global conflicts mentioned above. But the fact that Christ’s teaching about cheek-turning has survived the centuries as the foundation of his Church explains why Jesus’ favorite raw material was human flesh. He went out into the world and lived with the people he wanted to reach: prostitutes, tax collectors, adulterers—sinners. He taught them face to face, just as he taught his disciples. He prepared them to imitate him—making disciples throughout their global ministries.
But he knew the only way to kick-start those ministries 2000 years ago was to give them the raw material that would withstand the weathering of time. Again, that took muscle. He not only sacrificed his flesh in the process of spreading God’s word, but he built an altar from it that is now in its 21st century. From this altar we continue to consume his flesh.
And the church in which this altar resides—what’s that made of? St. Paul tells us, as he told the Corinthians:
“Do you not know that you are the temple of God,
and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person;
for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.”