It is becoming increasingly difficult to profess our faith in Jesus as the Son of God, the Saviour of the world, the Way, the Truth and the Life. Such exalted and triumphalistic claims about Jesus do not sit well with people who do not believe in Jesus. Some, perceiving that we are putting down their own beliefs about God and life, might even feel insulted. So there is pressure from society that we must say “all religions are the same” and “all are saved even if they do not believe in God” and that “there is no sin, as there is no right or wrong.” The unique claim of Jesus as the Saviour of the World and the Son of God is under challenge today.
This coercion to compromise the identity of Jesus was what happened at the beginning of the Church. The Jewish leaders who put Jesus to death were annoyed at the apostles for preaching in the name of Jesus. The fact was that they could not deny that the paralyzed man at the temple was healed. But they were annoyed that the apostles gave the credit to Jesus whom they had crucified. Preaching in the name of Jesus made them look bad and lose credibility for killing the Anointed One of God. Hence, “the high priest demanded an explanation. ‘We gave you a formal warning not to preach in this name, and what have you done? You have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and seem determined to fix the guilt of this man’s death on us.’”
The apostles’ reply was firm and uncompromising. “Obedience to God comes before obedience to men. We are witnesses to all this, we and the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.” Whilst Christians are called to live in peace and harmony with people of all creeds, or without creed, and races, we cannot compromise our beliefs in Jesus. We have to say what we know. Like Jesus who “who comes from heaven bears witness to the things he has seen and heard”, we too must do the same. We cannot dilute the truth about Jesus. For the apostles, the fact remains that “it was the God of our ancestors who raised up Jesus” who was “executed by hanging on a tree”. The implication of being raised from the dead by the Father meant that He is “a leader and saviour, to give repentance and forgiveness of sins through him to Israel.”
Of course, such a reply only “infuriated them that they wanted to put them to death.” That is the price of confessing our faith in Jesus. Non-believers have no issue if we simply confess that Jesus is one of the prophets, a great teacher or a good man or a faith healer. However, they would not accept our belief that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world. This is understandable for those who have no faith in Jesus. John the Baptist explains thus, “He who comes from above is above all others; he who is born of the earth is earthly himself and speaks in an earthly way.” So we cannot fault those who cannot accept Jesus as their savior and life. Without the gift of faith, we will not be able to surrender ourselves to Jesus because we think in human and earthly terms.
But does it require us to confess our faith in Jesus in such a way that is politically correct by compromising our belief in Jesus’ identity and mission? The answer is a definite “No.” Like the apostles, we must also say, “Obedience to God comes before obedience to men.” “He who comes from heaven bears witness to the things he has seen and heard, even if his testimony is not accepted.” This too was the witnessing of John the Baptist. Unlike the Jewish religious leaders, he had no self-interest. He was not protecting his turf. Neither was he afraid that his disciples might follow Jesus instead of him. On the contrary, he knew his role was that of a forerunner and a messenger to prepare the people.
However, those who accept Jesus and can vouch the truth about Him. John the Baptist said, “though all who do accept his testimony are attesting the truthfulness of God, since he whom God has sent speaks God’s own words: God gives him the Spirit without reserve.” Jesus for us is truly the Word of God because of His death and resurrection. We believe in Jesus who spoke the Word of God only because of His resurrection. If Jesus were not raised, then we can doubt what He taught. But precisely because of His resurrection from the dead, we know that He has come from above and that His testimony is true. None of us can claim that we came from above. So unless we came from above, we cannot speak about God whom we have not seen or heard. Our faith in Jesus therefore is founded on His death and resurrection. That is why, for the apostles to keep quiet about His death and resurrection would be to deny the full truth of the identity of Jesus and His mission in this world.
Indeed, as John the Baptist remarked, “The Father loves the Son and has entrusted everything to him. Anyone who believes in the Son has eternal life.” If the Father has entrusted everything to the Son, to believe in the Son is to have a share in the life of God. Jesus as the Son of God leads us to the fullness of life in Him. Therefore, the fact remains that if we accept Jesus, we will have eternal life in Him. Conversely, John the Baptist says, “but anyone who refuses to believe in the Son will never see life: the anger of God stays on him.” The truth remains that only in Christ, can we know who God is and who we really are. Without faith in Jesus, our knowledge of God would be compromised and so too our true identity and calling in life.
Of course, this invitation to life remains a choice that each individual must make. They might not agree or accept the testimony of Christ. If that were the case, it is their choice. The Christian confession of faith in Jesus as the Son of God, the Revealer of the Father is an offer to humanity. Christ is the gift of God to us and we who have encountered Jesus and find life in Him are called to share Him as a gift to humanity. The choice is theirs. There is no imposition. They are completely free to accept or reject, agree or disagree with our claims for Jesus and life. So long as we do not compel people to choose Jesus as their savior, we have a right to profess in what we believe and whom we believe.
Those who vehemently oppose what we believe are often reacting to a perceived threat in what we believe. Like the Jewish leaders, it is most likely that our teachings impact their lives and their selfish interests. Otherwise, just as we do not object to the claims of other religions because that is what they believe, others need not take offence for us to state our beliefs, our values and our commitments. Whilst we do not impose our views on others, others should not impose their views on us either. We are free to accept or reject each other’s views. Jesus remains an offer to humanity.
So as Catholics, we need to pray for conviction and courage to state what we believe without fear or coercion. St Peter urges us, “Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.” (1 Pt 3:14-16) We must grow in conviction of our faith and know our faith sufficiently well to defend what we believe. We must speak the truth calmly and in a sensitive manner.
Finally, let us not be discouraged when we are attacked by non-believers. The psalmist assures us, “He is happy who seeks refuge in him. The Lord turns his eyes to the just and his ears to their appeal. They call and the Lord hears and rescues them in all their distress. The Lord is close to the broken-hearted; those whose spirit is crushed he will save. Many are the trials of the just man but from them all the Lord will rescue him.”