Blessed Be the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Who Has Blessed Us in Christ
with Every Spiritual Blessing in the Heavens
As He Chose Us in him, before the foundation of the world
to be holy and without blemish before him. (Ephesians chapter 1).
At the end of my homily, I hope to repeat these words and a few more from the second reading of today’s mass. Hopefully they will have taken on a deeper meaning for us. Please note that they speak of humankind as holy and without blemish.
I will attempt to present a theological understanding of these verses that might represent a cutting edge in present-day theology even though my source is a 14th century mystic, Julian of Norwich. Our tendency today is to refer to great theologians as wisdom teachers, such as Karl Rahner Thomas Merton and Richard Rohr. Some people feel that they ‘push the envelope’ on what is theologically sound. You can judge for yourself. It is certainly not my intention to dismay or discourage you but rather to seek your approval and edification.
The foundation for Christian theology in the Catholic church, and in most Protestant churches is the book of Genesis, the first chapter, with its two accounts of creation. The book of Genesis is a part of the Bible and therefore is inspired, that is, it is the revelation of God. The interpretation of the book of Genesis is also inspired, that is, by the Holy Spirit as she dwells in the church today reminding us of all that Jesus has taught us. The Holy Spirit was sent to us on Pentecost, not as the conclusion of Christian revelation but rather as it’s beginning. The church’s understanding of the meaning of the Bible has not reached its conclusion but possibly has barely begun. As the human race proceeds in knowledge, wisdom, and sophistication, and also in its power over the created world and its ability to destroy it, it needs more and more the inspiration or the guidance of the Holy Spirit. One very important area for this guidance is in an understanding which the Bible gives as the foundation for understanding the spiritual destiny of the human race.
The book of Genesis was written for a simple, uneducated, unsophisticated tribe of wandering nomads around 4000 years ago. In fact it was not written for hundreds of years after it was formed orally in the form of tribal stories and poems recited around the evening campfires. It was only written down in the seventh century BC as the book of Genesis. It represents then what we call a mythical understanding of mankind and its relationship to God. As the three most recent popes have told us, the story of Adam and Eve, the garden of Eden, disobedience to God by eating the forbidden fruit, and the expulsion from the garden of Eden with its promise of the Messiah, is a mythology.
We do not mean by a mythology that it is a legend or a fairytale but rather it is a simple, imaginative way of trying to express a profound reality.
However, herein lies the problem. What satisfied the people of 4000 years ago as a mythology, an explanation of a profound spiritual truth, may not have that effect on people today.
The story of Genesis provided the Israelites with answers to this problem. As they looked around them they were very much aware of evils in the world; physical evils, moral evils, personal suffering and death. They needed an explanation for these things and through divine inspiration, they were given the book of Genesis and the creation story. Please note that it was a creation story not a creation history. They were told, first of all, that when God created mankind, men and women, he saw, not only that they were good, as was the rest of creation, but that they were very good, better than the rest of creation. Befittingly then, they were placed in the garden of paradise. But this was not the observations of these Isrealites when they saw in their daily lives, the evil, suffering and death that were so prevalent around them. What happened? The mythology of Genesis answers that question. Adam and Eve were disobedient to God’s command, ate the forbidden fruit, and were expelled from paradise to earn their living by tilling the earth and to give birth in pain and suffering. Thus the Israelites understood the world they were living in and their role in it.
Now the story of Genesis is part of the Bible, it is inspired, and it will always have relevance in our understanding of God’s dealings with us. We have to admit however, that in the passage of centuries, it has gotten more and more difficult to understand if we take it in a literal manner and even if we are sophisticated enough to see it as a mythology.
The Christian dispensation is maturing and is in need of a mythology that is more befitting to its education and sophistication. Even the seventh grade science student needs a better explanation than the story of Adam and Eve. The idea of Original Sin as the spiritual foundation of the human race is not acceptable in our scientific world and it is even less acceptable to our modern Christian world. What was acceptable to people four thousand years ago in the pre-Christian dispensation is very different from today with our understanding of God as taught by Jesus Christ and as interpreted by 2000 years of guidance by the Holy Spirit, even in face of our many failures.
What Christians must do today, suggests Richard Rohr, is build the church on a new foundation of original goodness, not any original curse or sin. Today’s second reading supports this. St. Paul, interpreting the teachings of and about Jesus does not see mankind through the eyes of guilt and Original Sin. We need a new mythology.
Strangely enough a new mythology was given to us 600 years ago in the 14th century by Julian of Norwich. With her understanding of God as love taught by Jesus. Julian does this in the 51st chapter of her wonderful book, “The Revelations of Divine Love”. Julian, through a special revelation given to her by Christ, sees the foundation of the human race in a very different way. Here is her mythology.
She sees a Lord, obviously God, sitting on his throne on a level plain with his servant, obviously the human race or Adam or Christ the new Adam, standing by his side. The servant is eagerly awaiting a command from his Lord so that he can rush to do his will. The Lord leans over and whispers something in the servant’s ear. Immediately he dashes off in his eagerness to fulfill the will of his Lord. After a little distance, in his haste, he stumbles and falls into a deep ditch. He is badly hurt physically by reason of broken bones and morally by reason of his inability to see his master because of the depth of the ditch. This is his greatest regret as he lies there suffering. After a while, taken up by his own distress, he even forgets about his Lord and is simply concerned with licking his own wounds.
As he lies there separated from his Lord and suffering, his Lord comes searching for him and looks down at him compassionately. And, Julian tells us, “The Lord saw no guilt in him”.The lord then gently, compassionately picked him up and restored him to even a greater place in his esteem than he had before.
This is a new mythology, not one of sin, disobedience and guilt but one whose foundation is God’s creation of the human race which he saw was very good. It is not a story of judgment, condemnation, and punishment, but of forgiveness compassion and love.
Julian’s Adam fell, if you will, not into sin but into a ditch, and not through disobedience but through eagerness to serve. True, his sufferings did separate him from his Lord and even made him forget but it was not through evil intentions. The Lord sought him out, not to accuse him of sin, and punish him but to look upon him with compassion and to see no guilt in him. He was restored to the Lord’s favor and we understand that this was done through the mediation of Christ. This mythology is how Jesus would look at creation and the foundation of the human race , And of how He knows and sees the Father and would bring him to us.
Now perhaps, we can understand and listen with new ears to the reading from Ephesians.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in Christ
with every spiritual blessing in the heavens,
as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world,
to be holy and without blemish before him.
In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ,
in accord with the favor of his will,
for the praise of the glory of God’s grace
that he granted us in the beloved.
In him we have redemption by his blood,
the forgiveness of transgressions,
in accord with the riches of his grace that he lavished upon us.
In all wisdom and insight, he has made known to us
the mystery of his will in accord with his favor
that he set forth in him as a plan for the fullness of times,
to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth .
May you be happy,
May you be free,
May you be loving,
May you be loved.
Father William Meninger