April 8, 1997

Why Do You Seek the Living Among the Dead?

After the Resurrection, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away, and two “men in dazzling garments” said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, he has been raised.”

We must answer the same question today. Why do we seek the living among the dead? Our master has died and we go on living in the flesh. He rises to glorified life and we “die in our sins” (John 8:21-24). Do we expect to find Jesus in the world? Make no mistake, the parable of the sheep and the goats ( Matthew 25:31-46) commands us to seek Jesus among the poor, the imprisoned, the sick and the outcast. Jesus nowhere commands us to seek him in the rich, the powerful, in money or even in casual friendships. Jesus nowhere commands us to be nice people that live just like our neighbors. “Be perfect,” is the command, not try. We are called to a heroic life, not a (literally) mundane one. About thirty years ago the monk Thomas Merton commented to some novices about the movement at that time to “go to the world” (to find truth). He said that the people most likely to consider going to the world an absurdity are the worldly, because they know how empty it is.

In 1 Corinthians 5, St. Paul reminds us that we can’t really leave the world, of course, but that we have to live apart in a sense. In 2 Cor 6:14, he further exhorts us not to “yoke” ourselves with the worldly, and in particular not to even eat with a false Christian. In Titus 3:10-11, he includes heretics under this. St. Paul was fearful at times that the churches he founded would lapse back into paganism because of their associations with the worldly and heretics (1 Cor 6:11). He had good reason to fear: his own people had sinned in the time of the Judges and Kings in the same fashion, sometimes even sacrificing their own children to the false god, Molech.

Returning to Thomas Merton, he described the world we are to leave as the world that “has illusions about itself.” This world is a vain and pretentious place, with so many worries about appearances and position. I’ve worked in “cubicles” in several offices, and have seen people actually measuring to see whose cubicle was slightly larger, since cubicle size (supposedly) indicated status. Cars and clothes are advertised with illusion, not price versus performance. Conspicuous consumption is the rule, and the rich thrive on our foolishness while the homeless suffer. Many of us spend more time working on our looks than we spend in Mass or Scriptural prayer, and the television eats up even more of our lives. On the other hand, some people worry about their appearance at church, and count converts to see who evangelizes best. Oh yes, let’s not forget the Christians who say they won’t play that game, so they do nothing and pride themselves on their “salvation by faith.” Pride and vanity are there at every turn, “like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). What then is to be done?

“He has shown you, O man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you: to do justly, love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8 cf). This is the answer. Not to run off to the hills and collect firearms like some. Not to sell out and be indistinguishable from the worldly, like most. To stand like the stone of witness. To stand like a stone of contradiction. To be the city (of refuge), built on rock. We are the Light of the World (Matthew 5:14), because we are the Body of Christ. Individually we receive the Body of Christ in Holy Communion (John 6:52-58), but the world receives the Body of Christ when we live in it, although the world struggles against us as the flesh struggles against the spirit. For us to receive Holy Communion, it must resemble bread: for the world to receive Christ through us, we must resemble Him whose Body we are. We are to be bold, for we have a bold calling: to be “a chosen race, a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9). We have been set apart so that we might both be and bring a message. We are called to bring a wonderful message of freedom and joy to a world addicted to things that can never satisfy.

“Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy?” (Isaiah 55:2). How can we give the message that God is sufficient for all our needs if we are continually going to the world for ours? Our living is from Christ, our worth is from Christ, our hope is in Christ. Why do we seek the living among the dead? Most of us will pay extra for quality, but what if the best quality came for free? “All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat. Come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk!” (Isaiah 55:1).

St. Peter calls us “aliens and sojourners” in this world (1 Peter 2:11), and C.S. Lewis said we are like soldiers dropped in behind enemy lines. St. Paul says that a good soldier never gets involved in “civilian” affairs. We have been saved, and at a cost, so let us not enslave ourselves again (Galatians 5:1, 1 Cor 6:20).

Nothing in the world compares to the “burning of our hearts within us as He spoke” (Luke 24:32). Let us not be like Esau, Jacob’s brother, who sold his role in the history of salvation for a bowl of soup (Genesis 25:29-34). He cared little for his birthright, do we care little for our heavenly inheritance?

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