10 Jul 2016
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” (Col. 1:15) (+)
“He is the image of the invisible God,” so says Colossians to us this morning about Jesus. The word in the original text for image is icon. It’s a Greek word, but maybe you’ve heard it before. Icons are religious pictures, but they are a specific kind of religious picture. And one of the most important attributes of an icon is the kind of person who creates it. The images are considered to convey the holy and because they convey the holy the artist must be in a state of holiness. It’s not only skill that defines an icon; it’s the moral state of the artist. A highly accomplished artist creating a beautiful piece of work would not be called an icon if that artist was living an immoral life. How can the holiness of the icon translate the holiness of the subject if the artist is not in a state of holiness?
I remember Bp. Paul telling me about the major renovations that were completed recently at our cathedral in Manchester. The contractor does a lot of church work all over the place. The crew keeps in mind that they are working in sacred spaces. Their language is appropriate. They’re not blaring music in the church. They realize that they are working to create a space so that others may worship and that they are instruments in creating that space, creating that opportunity to be with God, and so they act accordingly.
And likewise, there is a whole theology that deals with the idea of Jesus being the icon of God. This means that Jesus is the perfect representation of the Almighty. Jesus makes visible what is otherwise invisible, makes known what is otherwise unknowable. It means that what Jesus says, what Jesus does, is the word of God and is the living example of God. Now, think about how important it is when Jesus says to those seventy-two disciples whom we talked about last Sunday, the ones who come out of nowhere and the ones who will disappear just as quickly, the anonymous followers of Jesus, and they are the ones to whom Jesus says in this morning’s Gospel, “‘Whoever listens to you listens to me.’” (Luke 10:16a) Jesus is the perfect, holy image of the invisible God, and we have all been given the sacred responsibility of painting that image for all whom we encounter in what we say and in what we do. Just as the artist painting the icon or the craftsman working on a cathedral realizes that they are sharing the holy so we too must realize that as believers we are sharing Christ even if we never come right out and say His name.
This isn’t justification for some sort of power-trip. At one time the church abused this privilege and treated it almost along the lines of “Do this or else.” The church has been accused to condemning more people to hell in the name of the loving God than any other institution ever. In this way, the privilege of being Jesus’ voice and life became nothing more than a tool to gain power and lots of it. In that search for power, there’s none of the joy we can hear coming out in the biblical hymn that Maryanna read for us today. It celebrates Jesus as the image of God, and rejoices in creation, the church and that great promise that all things will be reconciled to God through Him. This is one of those beautiful passages that lets us hope in universal salvation – the very opposite of the threat of condemnation. It’s the hope-filled theology that eventually everything created by God will be reconciled to God through Christ.
That’s the message we hear in today’s liturgy from start to finish. The first words of today’s particular Mass are “I lift up my soul to my God. In you I trust.” (Ps. 25:1) And the last words will be, “Help us to recognize that all people are our brothers and sisters. … Enliven us as we help each other on the road to salvation.” This is why the hymn sheet has the clip art picture of the word praise with the letters a and i depicted as a woman and a man with arms raised in exultation. This is why I included that drawing of Jesus looking heavenward with such joy in His expression. That we are called upon to share God is not about power, judgment and condemnation; it should fill us instead with the joy and enthusiasm of having God near.
Then the world kicks-in and tests that faith. Almost every week we are confronted with another tragic event that makes us say in exasperation: O my God! This week it was Minnesota, New Orleans and Dallas. I appreciate the apprehension of police officers today because there are so many guns in our society, but I also can understand the anger and frustration among the African-American community that so many of their young men are being killed by police action. One man was selling CD’s outside a convenience store another had a broken tail light. This shouldn’t lead to death. But to then give vent to that rage by targeting other police officers in Dallas is vengeance at its worst. There was a picture in the immediate aftermath of the Dallas shootings of six distraught police officers outside of the hospital where the officers who had been shot were transported. They were there together as police officers. Three of the officers were white and three were black. The Dallas shooter wasn’t standing up for his race. He wasn’t doing justice. He was only adding to the death tally.
What can maybe be a counterweight to all of this anger and violence is possibly something as corny as “love thy neighbour” and even forget about the “love thy” part. It’s neighbour. It’s a conscious effort to get to know the other so that they’re not, for example, only some black guy or white cop, but they are a person. That’s what brought all those protestors together across the country because the personal stories came out about the two men who were shot by the police. That’s what brought those police officers together outside the hospital, black and white, because other police officers were in there. Jesus never looked upon another by category. He always saw the person. And Jesus says to us today, “‘Whoever listens to you listens to me.’” So let us pray that we may share Jesus’ message of neighbour by how we live, by always trying to see the person. For this may we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo