A New Commandment, A New Humanity

April 1, 2021

“We imitate Christ’s death by being buried with him in baptism. If we ask what this kind of burial means and what benefit we may hope to derive from it, it means first of all making a complete break with our former way of life…we have to begin a new life, and we cannot do so until our previous life has been brought to an end.”

St. Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, 15.

In Christ’s audience with a couple of Greek believers, Jesus tells them, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains but a single grain. But if it dies, it produces much fruit” (John 12:24). Given the circumstances of their encounter, the immediate meaning of John in this story is that, as things are, the covenant of God with Israel is only for the house of Israel. Though the two believed, they were Gentile and, therefore, could only spectate as opposed to participate. However, Jesus is alluding to God’s plan of universal salvation, that “all nations learn [God’s] saving help” (Psalm 67). To fulfill the old covenant and broker a new one which will embrace all nations and peoples, a “grain” must first cease to be what it is so that it can become a source for more. Jesus who will take upon Himself the sins of God’s people will die to fulfill that covenant but establish the new covenant in his rising from the dead. And this new covenant will be eternal. Since, Christ died once already [for all], He will not die again. This was Jesus’ cryptic way of telling the Greek believers to look forward to what God is doing through Him and that the way will open very soon.

While this was the immediate meaning of the analogy of the grain of wheat, every word of God spoken through Jesus are themselves like grains of wheat pregnant with deeper meanings; that buried in the soil of our imagination and thinking, can spring forth a multitude of meanings for us. Christ Himself in is humanity is being referred to here in that as a grain of wheat buried in the tomb rises to a glorified existence, a body “spiritualized” so that his humanity is no longer bound by the physical laws of nature, space, or time. In raising Jesus up, Christ brings humanity’s nature up with Him. And so not only Christ, but if we have buried ourselves in Christ through baptism, our “old humanity” has died and now we live a new human existence. Our old humanity lives for the earthly paradise that no longer exists. In the old way of life, our existence is frustrated by having no goal, no end, no telos. There was literally nothing for us to live for before Christ. However, having been made for Eden, our old humanity continues to chase the shadows of the earthly paradise. We seek various forms of comfort, pleasure, security, dominion, and satisfaction because, once upon a time we had those things in Eden. These are the motivating factors behind our fallen nature. Since this earthly paradise no longer exists but our desire for it remains, sinfulness abounds. Our economy as it is currently is a prime example. We long not only for all the material necessities but also the myriad comforts and luxuries (more than we need) that this world offers. The problem with things on this side of heaven, with earthly things, is that they are finite. It is the case that either there is not enough for everyone, or there is an unwillingness to share and shortchange the god of profit margins and investment returns.

It has been the cry of the faithful beginning with Jesus, and so articulated by St. Basil above, that humanity has been renewed and remade in the forge of Christ’s Paschal Mystery, therefore we should strive to to live as heavenly creatures even now while still traversing the earth. We enter into this new way of living through baptism, but, in order to embrace it and for it to take effect in our lives, we have to “[make] a complete break with our former way of life…” When we live for heaven, we begin to do things that appear foolish to those who live for the things of this world. Like St. Francis in imitating Christ, voluntarily gave up his inheritance and place of social standing. His family was rich and among the nobility; yet Francis decided that, as a citizen of the heavenly city, his wealth lay in his likeness to Christ. When he was turned away he rejoiced because it was another mark of similarity to his beloved Lord. St. Francis of Assisi loved creation, not for what he received from it but because all creation pointed him to God and praised God along with him. This is the treasury of heavenly beatitude, the new point and goal of the new humanity reborn in Christ. We no longer live for our individual survival and physical comforts as the primary end of our life. We live for God’s Word who reveals love as giving-ness. Whereas it is the natural tendency of our humanity to cling to and grasp at anything we can get our earthly hands at, Christ shows us that in heaven there is no such need. He loosens the grip of humanity that has taken hold of the railings on a sinking ship.

How do we, as the baptized, make manifest this new humanity? It is through a lifetime of little but repeated choices, opting for heaven’s offerings as opposed to what the world offers. Deciding, for example, to be content with enough instead of striving for more is not “settling” it is a heavenly wisdom that begins to consider others as myself. About this time last year there was a toilet paper shortage because of the panic caused by orders to stay home. People stocked up when usually a person would normally buy at least two weeks worth of toilet paper during a usual day of shopping. For reasons I still do not quite understand, that was something at which people were grasping and clinging in a time of uncertainty. Motivated by self-preservation and comfort shelves were quickly emptied of toilet paper by those “stronger” and “quicker.” This wound up hurting the elderly who live on fixed incomes and limited energy levels who don’t have the strength to “compete” for a simple amenity like toilet paper. This is a micro-example, but think of how the stock market, the economy operates and how we ourselves treat money. We’ll see just how this “competition” was not really supposed to be there. The consequence of seeing life as a competition for things that ultimately cannot save us from the futility of life without grace is ultimately we will have winners and we will have losers. To the earthly minded, it is obvious to want to be a winner. But Christ, who calls us to divine love here and now, calls us follow Him in losing now to become a “loser” who is poor, mourns, lowly, persecuted, peaceful, and innocent so as to win heaven. It is Christ who lost everything and surrendered every bit of comfort such that it even hurt to breathe or rest his head on the cross because of the thorns–it is this Christ that Christians call Lord and Master. In losing in the eyes of the world in a most stupendous way, He wins for all of us as well as Himself the crown of heaven and it is because He let it all go, not clinging to anything or keeping anything for Himself. This is the new humanity. “As I have loved you, so you should love one another” (John 13:34).

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