What is a Christian?

3rd Sunday Ordinary Time, year A | 1 Cor 12:12-30; Lk 1:1-4; 4:14-21

At the start of this school year at UBC, I spent some time standing in front of the booth for the Catholic group during Clubs Day. This is a day for students to check out the various clubs that are active on campus in order to see if they would like to join any of them. At a certain point, one student walked over to me from the stream passing by the booths, pointed at my clerical collar and said, “what are you?” “A Catholic priest”, I answered. “What’s a Catholic?”, he asked. “A Christian”, I said. Still genuinely confused he said, “and what is a Christian?” The student’s question is a good one. What is a Christian?

In the first reading (1 Cor 12:12-30), St. Paul explains that the central aspect of our identity as Christians is that together we make up the body of Christ. Paul wrote this letter to a community that was deeply fractured. One cause of division was a sort of tribalism in which people grouped into rival factions, aligning themselves with different figures important to the community: Paul, Cephas and Apollos (1 Cor 1). There were also estrangements in the community between rich and poor, especially when they celebrated the Eucharist (1 Cor 11). Further discord arose because people with various gifts such as wisdom, healing or tongues, were vying to be seen as the most important members of the community (1 Cor 12). In order to help the Christians at Corinth overcome their disunity, Paul called them to remember their core identity. Because of their baptism (12:13), Paul explained, they are all a part of Christ’s body (12:27). No one individual is Christ’s body. Rather, as a whole they make up the body of Christ. Just as in the human body each part plays its own unique and important role, so each baptized individual contributes in an indispensable way to the community. What is a Christian? Paul would respond to the student from UBC that a Christian is someone who, together with other baptized people, make up the body of Christ. In other words, together Christians are the enduring presence of Jesus in the world. Christians continue Jesus’ mission here and now. As good as this answer sounds, I can imagine that the curious student might not yet be satisfied. I can imagine him asking, “but what is the mission of Jesus?”James Tissot [Public domain]Fortunately, in the Gospel today taken from Luke (1:1-4; 4:14-21), Jesus directly answers this question as he publicly declares his mission. Jesus’ actions in the Gospel resemble a politician who announces that they are running for president. If you follow US politics, you will know that in recent days a number of candidates from the Democratic party have stepped forward to announce their intention to run for president. These announcements follow a similar pattern. In some public setting the candidate declares their intention to become president and then gives a list of compelling action items that they plan to accomplish if they are elected. In launching their campaign, the candidate reveals the mission that they would work towards as president. In the Gospel, we find Jesus at the start of his public ministry announcing his mission in a public space, namely the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. There, on the Sabbath, he stood up to read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah that was handed to him. It was Jesus himself who decided which part of this scroll to read from. The text Jesus chose to declare to the people (Isa 61), outlined the various aspects of the mission he was about to begin. Jesus announced that he would bring glad tiding to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, let the oppressed go free and proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord (Lk 4:18-19). Unlike many politician who fail to deliver on their campaign promises, Jesus immediately follows through. In the rest of the chapter (Lk 4), Jesus makes good on what he promised in the synagogue. He liberated people from demons, cured Simon’s mother-in-law and numerous others and called people to conversion. In the Gospel today, Jesus announces his mission. This mission of healing, overcoming evil and injustice and leading people to God is what we Christians, the body of Christ, are called to continue in the world.

Praise the Lord

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