|“Return of the Prodigal Son” by Rembrandt|
The original Christians were known for their taking care of others. Especially others that the rest of society did not care for. They buried the unknown poor, they cared for the sick. They cared for the beggars. Most of all, they cared for one another – sharing all so that no one was in need. Many groups in history are known for power, strength, violence and bravery. Few are known for how they loved each other. This is the witness of our faith.
Those first Christians were also known for their joy. Joy is the infallible sign of God’s presence – it goes beyond happiness (which is having the world as we would have it) toward being in tune with the world as God would have it. We find joy when we live as God would have us live.
The first Christians shared all the conditions and struggles of life that their neighbors shared (and we still do). We share the struggles, uncertainties and pains of this world. Where then does our joy come from? It comes from being freed to love and rejoice because, in Christ, we are freed from the three chains of death, guilt and ego.
We all fear death whether we acknowledge it or not and most of our sins come from this deep fear of diminishment, loss and ultimately oblivion. But, as Christians, we know someone who once was dead and now lives. We can boast, “Death, where is your sting?”
As Christians we are also freed from guilt. We all know and bear this misery. It is the felt knowledge that we have done what we should not and that we have not done what we should. And even when we are not personally guilty of a specific sin we do share in the wholesale guilt of the human race. And no human can forgive us, because we all share in sin. But God can forgive and God has in Christ. In Christ our guilt is wiped away – replaced by God’s mercy.
Finally, the Christian is freed from the ego. We are each both blessed and cursed by being a unique individual. We can be so obsessed about taking care of ourselves and living in our own bubble that we forget others and forget the great mystery that it is only in dying to self that we rise to new life. Through Christ we have learned that we save ourself by losing ourself. Maturity comes when I realize that my life is not just about me.
In our care and in our joy we, as Christians, are known. We love because, in Christ, we have been loved and freed from death, from guilt and from the ego. This is the witness of our faith.
See, how much these Christians love one another! Hopefully, this will one day be said of our generation of Christians!