Who is the liar?
Whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ.
Whoever denies the Father and the Son, this is the antichrist.
Anyone who denies the Son does not have the Father,
but whoever confesses the Son has the Father as well. (1 Jn 2:22-28)
Basil was the father of Eastern Monasticism and Gregory of Nanzianzen was a bishop affiliated with Basil. They lived in the 4th century when the Arian heresy, which denied the divinity of Jesus, was running rampant. The comment on Basil in www.americancatholic.org is quite telling and certainly makes Basil relevant to our times:
As the French say, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” Basil faced the same problems as modern Christians. Sainthood meant trying to preserve the spirit of Christ in such perplexing and painful problems as reform, organization, fighting for the poor, maintaining balance and peace in misunderstanding.
Basil fought Arianism but he also was a great champion of the poor. He really understood the Gospel message:
The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor; the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit.
Basil’s words convict us today. A Catholic philosopher from Princeton University, Robert George, wants to return the foundations of Christianity to a natural law basis thus abrogating the biblically-based Social Gospel. Obviously, he is the darling of many American bishops and their followers, who would love to dismantle the reforms of Vatican II and return to a pietistic understanding of Jesus the Christ.
As in Basil’s and Gregory’s days, it comes down to an understanding of who Jesus is. The Arians denied the divinity of Jesus. Today, among pietistic conservatives, the tendency is to deny the humanity of Jesus. Whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ AND the Son of God in the flesh is the antichrist (1 Jn 2:22).
Jesus did not run around amusing his playmates in Nazareth by turning lumps of clay into birds. Jesus did not climb out of the crib fully understanding who he was as the Son of God. The scriptures themselves tell us that he grew in wisdom, age and grace. In other words, he came to an understanding of his union with Abba God as he grew physically and spiritually. I believe that Jesus fully understood his relationship with Abba God when, after having cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?,” he said, “Into your hands I commend my spirit.”
If we deny the humanity of Jesus, we are the antichrist. Jesus was fully human. Coming to grips with the humanity of Jesus means that we need to understand Jesus and the social and cultural context in which he lived. Jesus was a citizen in a country that was occupied by foreigners–the Romans. Jesus was a religious Jew (Yes Jesus was a Jew, not a Christian!) who felt the oppression of the religious leaders who were in cahoots with Rome. Like so many people today their security came from getting along and going along with empire.
It was only later that a distorted version of Jesus vis a vis Temple worship led to the redemptive emphasis of saving us from our sins emerged in the church. Luke clearly tells us why Jesus came from the get go: to liberate the oppressed, to set free captives, to give sight to the blind and to proclaim a year of Jubilee relief. Jesus saw his mission as alleviating the suffering and misery of an occupied oppressed people. He boldly challenged the purity and debt codes of the religious leaders which kept the people in oppression. If Jesus were alive in Palestine this very day, he would be leading the peace march to liberate Gaza. He lived a life of nonviolence to show us that we can change unjust systems and structures loving our enemies and praying for our persecutors. Jesus was crucified like a common criminal because he challenged the unjust oppression of his people.
Basil, like Francis of Assisi, clearly understood and lived the Gospel of Jesus. They gave bread to the hungry. They clothed the naked. They sought to redress injustices.
Today, our inordinate need for security, which Homeland Security can never give, keeps us from living the Gospel. We spend 52% of our budget on defense and we cannot afford less than a trillion for health care over a ten year period. We have spent over a trillion on wars (immoral and unjust) while 17 million American children go to bed hungry. We build bigger and better Nukes and silos for them but we cannot figure out how to provide affordable housing for the homeless.
It is easier to get along and get along than it is to challenge these injustices. Our acts of charity must go beyond throwing a few bucks at problems. We must challenge and dismantle the structures which create human misery and suffering. Otherwise, we are complicit in injustice. John would say that we deny the Christ.