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Chapter 22: God’s Redemptive Work in Jesus’ Human Life

Question D: By what types of acts does Jesus carry out his personal vocation?

1. We fulfill our personal vocations by making and carrying out many quite limited choices in the course of our lives. Jesus similarly must implement his largest choices—his basic commitment and acceptance of his vocation—by smaller ones. Ultimately, he does this primarily in his willing acceptance of death. But he lives before he dies, and it is worth noticing what he does to carry out his mission prior to its bitter end.

2. He has a hidden life, during which, no doubt, he prepares in many ways for his public activity. Furthermore, the Gospels, especially Luke’s, indicate that even during his busy public life he often slipped away by himself to pray (see Lk 5.16). It was important to him to commune with the Father; undoubtedly in such prayer Jesus discerned clearly what steps he should take.

3. Jesus teaches not like the typical rabbi, but with authority (see Mt 7.28–29; Lk. 4.32); he is not simply expressing his own views but teaching what God wishes taught. He announces the kingdom.14 In doing so, he also clarifies what is required to share in it. The good news of the availability of renewed friendship and communion with God does have an important condition attached to it: One must be prepared to let go of one’s sins. Children of God leave darkness behind (see Jn 1.5–12). Those who cannot bring themselves to do this must reject the gospel, whereas anyone who accepts the gospel is required to live in a new way, with new values, which Jesus both teaches and exemplifies (see Mt 5–7).

4. Jesus makes a frontal attack on Satan’s kingdom, the sin-death complex, by driving out demons, curing illnesses, raising the dead, and forgiving sins.15 These acts of healing and forgiving both elicit faith and are a response to it. Sometimes, especially in John, his miracles are regarded as signs to encourage belief (see Jn 2.11; 10.38; 11.41–42); Jesus wishes to show that faith brings salvation. However, he refuses to produce signs to satisfy the skeptical (see Mt 16.1–4). His signs presupppose a certain disposition of openness; challenged by them, his enemies only take greater offense at Jesus (see Jn 11.45–54). This disposition of openness is a kind of faith, a willingness to take Jesus honestly for what he is. He provides signs for those in this condition in order to transform their disposition into acceptance of God’s love present in him (see S.t., 3, q. 43, a. 1). His signs culminate in his own death and resurrection.

Jesus is friendly toward sinners (see Mt 9.9–13; Lk 7.34; 15.1–2; 19.7). He protects the sinner, not to condone the sin, but to save the sinner for life (see Jn 8.2–11). Forgiveness comes even without being sought, and it is followed by the healing which is sought; the visible healing demonstrates the divine reality of forgiveness (see Mt 9.1–8; Mk 2.1–12; Lk 5.17–26). Jesus also shows that the sin-death complex is broken by driving out demons (see Mk 1.23–28; Lk 4.33–37). His critics say he does this by the power of the devil (see Mt 9.34; Lk 11.14–20). Jesus points out the illogic of the position: Evil does not destroy itself.

Typically, Jesus works in response to faith. He forgives sins on this basis (see Lk 7.48–50). His cures are generally performed on this basis (see Mt 9.28–29). In Nazareth, he cannot do many miracles because of lack of faith (see Mt 13.53–58). Gentiles also are cured because of their faith in Jesus (see Mt 8.5–13; 15.21–28). A person with faith is cured by Jesus even prior to his knowing about it, the miraculous healing power being drawn out of him by faith (see Lk 8.45–48). The faith in Jesus of those who cannot see him leads him to cure their blindness, so that they come to see (see Mt 20.29–34; Mk 10.46–52; Lk 18.35–43).

Many of the miracles of Jesus, like that of opening blind eyes, signify the total redemption which they partially bring about. For example, the cleansing of lepers is an act of healing and compassion; it involves associating with those who are cast out and it returns them to the community (see Mk 1.40–45). The miracle of the multiplication of the loaves, which is the only miracle described in all four Gospels, in many ways shows how the Son of Man undoes what Man has done. Jesus is a spirit of truth, not deceit; he offers life-giving food, not the food of death. He draws people together instead of separating them (see especially Jn 6).

The account of the raising of Lazarus (see Jn 11.1–44) is an especially rich miracle story. John describes the engagement of all of the human powers of Jesus, and at the same time makes it clear that he is acting to manifest God’s love. The miracle is a response to the faith of Martha and Mary; it arouses faith in the disciples. The miracle shows that God’s friendship is given; it also promises the coming resurrection.

5. Finally, Jesus begins to gather a group which can accept God’s reign and carry on Jesus’ own work of service.16 He tells the first four whom he calls that instead of catching fish, they will be fishers of men, will gather humankind into the kingdom (see Mt 4.19). The Twelve were called by Jesus to be his companions, to preach, cure, and cast out demons as he did (see Mk 3.14–15). They were to be his witnesses, to receive God’s revelation in him (see Lk 24.46–49). They were sent to carry his mission throughout the world (see Mt 28.18–20). Their lives, like his, would be given in service (see Jn 21.15–19). They would overpower evil in this life and gain eternal life for their work (see Lk 10.18–20).

14. See Jeremias, op. cit., for a treatment of the central theme of Jesus’ preaching. He proclaims the reign of God (96–108), which is good news for the poor—that is, for sinners ready to accept God’s mercy (108–21) during the time of grace prior to the consummation of the world and the hour of judgment (122–58). See also Xavier Léon-Dufour, S.J., The Gospels and the Jesus of History, trans. John McHugh (New York: Desclee, 1968), 114–16, 228–38; Dodd, op. cit., 53–79.

15. See Jeremias, op. cit., 85–96, for a development of this aspect of Jesus’ work, significantly treated under the heading: “Overcoming the Rule of Satan.”

16. See ibid., 159–78 and 231–40, for a treatment of Jesus’ gathering of his own community and sending of messengers to expand his individual effort; Dodd, op. cit., 81–97. For the argument that Jesus did indeed found the Church on the apostles, see B. C. Butler, O.S.B., “Spirit and Institution in the New Testament,” in Studia Evangelica, 3 (1961), ed. F. L. Cross, Texte und Untersuchungen, 88 (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1966), 138–65; David M. Stanley, S.J., “Authority in the Church: A New Testament Reality,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 29 (1967), 555–73.