Members of all religions eventually find themselves believing and doing things at odds with the practice and convictions of those who first experienced the faith they profess.

Before Vatican II, Roman Catholics deviated from their roots by frequently referring to their priests as other Christs. The impression I received from this popular belief was that priest alone had a unique mission to be Jesus among us. Knowing almost nothing about the early church and its Scriptures in those pre-reform days, I never questioned this pious conviction.

On the other hand, those familiar with the Christian Scriptures know one of the earliest Christian writings we possess, Pauls letter to the Galatians, expressly contradicts the belief that only one elite group of Christians mirrors Jesus.

Limitless

Paul reminds his community in chapter three of his work that the risen Jesus breaks through all limits of culture, status and gender. For all who are baptized in Christ, he writes, have clothed themselves in Christ. There is neither Jew or Greek, there is neither slave or free person, there is not male and female; you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Paul believes that, because Jesus rose as a new creation, He can be represented by more than just free Jewish men. All who join Him in dying and rising become other Christs. Like Jesus, theyre a new creation, mirroring the person they imitate.

No matter what theology our early Christian authors convey in their writings, each presumes he or she is another Christ, writing for people who also are other Christs. We cant appreciate Sundays three readings unless we first buy into this essential concept.

Luke, for instance, takes for granted that Jesus ministry doesnt end with His death and resurrection (Acts 5: 12-16). He deliberately expands his Gospel into the Acts of the Apostles to show how Jesus ministry continues in the Christian community for whom he writes. Jesus followers dont just remember what He did; they actually continue doing what He did.

Luke first mentions, Many signs and wonders were done among the people at the hands of the apostles. Then he remarks, A large number of people from the towns in the vicinity of Jerusalem also gathered, bringing the sick and those disturbed by unclean spirits, and they were all cured. Those who read Lukes Gospel discover that these are the same things Jesus does. Luke is convinced that the risen Jesus lives on through the lives and ministry of His disciples.

One in Jesus

Notice how the author of Revelation begins his work by professing faith both in Jesus alive, and in His followers carrying on His dying and rising (Rev. 1: 9-13, 17-19).

My name is John, he writes, and through our union with Jesus, I am your brother and share your sufferings, your kingdom and all you endure. Those who die and rise with Jesus become one not only with Him, but also with all those others who are one with Him.

Such oneness isnt restricted just to those who personally came in contact with the historical Jesus. John makes this point in his famous doubting Thomas story (Jn 20: 19-31). Have you come to believe because you have seen me? the risen Jesus asks the startled disciple. Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.

Those who physically saw, heard and touched the Galilean carpenter are not better off than those who experience only the risen Jesus, present in His community.

Anyone still reflecting on their faith from the perspective of that modern, pre-Vatican II theology which restricted Jesus presence to a select few must be having quite a problem with todays priest shortage. On the other hand, those who base their theology on the core beliefs of the early Christian community are coming up with a completely different read on the phenomenon.

(04-19-01)