ISN'T HE JUST A MAN?
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Theological controversy is nothing new. The church has been embroiled in it from the beginning. It has fought over countless matters, some significant such as the doctrine of salvation; some insignificant such as the date that Easter should be celebrated. A list of the church's controversies would fill a book, but today we encounter the very first one, the grand daddy of them all, when the people in the synagogue kept asking one another: Isn't this Joseph's son?
Make no mistake, Joseph played an important role in God's plan. He was the husband of the Blessed Virgin, and the protector of and provider for the Holy Family. Though we know little about him the church has always honored him as a great saint, and held him a worthy example to be imitated by all. His feast day is celebrated on March 19th, and he is known as the Patron Saint of a Happy Death because tradition says he was privileged to die in the arms of Jesus and Mary.
But as important a person as St. Joseph was, Jesus was only his son in a legal sense. His true Father is God Himself. Jesus springs from divine seed, joined to the truly human seed of the Blessed Virgin, so the church has always confessed Him to be not only "true man born of the Virgin Mary," but also "true God begotten of the Father from eternity."
When we say that Jesus is, "of one substance with the Father," we are professing that He is God. We are saying that whatever "substance" God is, the incarnate Lord is of the same, but in our Lord's first public liturgy His hearers got it all wrong. May we, by the Spirit of the Lord given us in baptism, get it right.
Neither was Jesus merely an imaginary Son of God. That was another church controversy, called Docetism. It taught that Jesus did not truly assume human flesh, for that would be beneath God, but rather that He only "seemed" to be human, that He was what we would call today a hologram, however, this is wrong. God created a material world, and the sin that ruined it all is equally real. Trespasses always start in the mind, but they quickly become incarnate. They take on human form as we use the wondrous bodies that God entrusted to us to perpetrate every manner of evil against our neighbor, and even sin against our own bodies. But this is the world that He made, the world that He loves, and the world that He reconciled to Himself by the death of His Holy Child. The preacher of the sermon to the Hebrews says it like this: Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil… (Heb. 2:14)
Yet Jesus did not only become incarnate long ago, for a short time. He promises to be present among us to the end of the age, not just in our minds and hearts, but actually and factually in the Word and Sacraments. The church must constantly defend this truth because we are like the people the Lord taught that day. We wonder: How can this pastor forgive my sins? Isn't he Joseph's son? How can bread and wine be heaven's food brought to earth, eternity's feast brought into time? Can it really purge my sins, console me in my sorrow and give me eternal life? Isn't this Joseph's son? No, this is God's Son, bodily present among us to set us free from the devil's oppression, from the fear of death, from theological blindness and from spiritual bankruptcy. He is the Ransom God gave for us, the innocent for the guilty, the Righteous for the unrighteous, the immortal for the mortal, the incorruptible Son of God, given to raise the sons of earth.
Nor must we forget the Word of God, but again our faith falters. Wasn't the bible written by men, we ask? Can we really believe it, put our trust in it and build our lives on it? In today's Old Testament lesson we find that when the Walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt after sitting in ruins for decades, the people rededicated them by publicly reading and preaching God's Word for hours on end. They prayed, worshiped and ate a sacred meal of fat foods and sweet wine which was prophetic of the Eucharist we celebrate today. Furthermore, what did the Word made flesh do when He went to the synagogue? He read the Scriptures and offered Himself as their very fulfillment. It is what we still do today. The Services we encounter in Nehemiah and Luke are but infant forms of the fully grown Mass that we celebrate today.
Still there is one more important lesson we learn from today's gospel, that the love of God extends to all men. Today the church is not Israel. We are the chosen people. Will we hear Jesus when we hear the Scriptures? Will we see His flesh and blood in the bread and the wine? Will we treasure and uphold the church's sacred traditions so that she might be a Light to the Gentiles? Or will we throw Jesus over the cliff or under the bus in order to win the praise of men, in order to swell our numbers, our pride and our bank account? If we do that, then we too will be rejected.
Already this land, which once lay in heathen darkness, is quickly returning to the same. It is filled with pride and superstition. It is because of us, because the church believes that Jesus is the son of Joseph, but not the Son of God, still incarnate among us, to save all men from the sin's tyranny. God wants to give the Gospel to all men, but we don't need to lose it as the Jews did in order for others to gain it, so let us stand firm and hold to the traditions that we were taught by our faithful fathers: that Jesus is the Son of God, that He is still graciously incarnate among us in the church, and that He will come again in glory to liberate us from all oppression. Amen.
~ Rev. Dean Kavouras