Rocca di Papa, October 9, 1978
Love of neighbour buries its roots in God, and God reveals himself in his Word: Chiara proposes us a rigorous reading of the New Testament concerning Jesus’ presence, a reading that allows all the wealth of her experience transpire.
If we read the New Testament particularly the four Gospels, John's first letter and Paul's letters, we find clear and striking statements about the presence of Jesus in our neighbour.
We can start with the Gospels. In some passages Jesus identifies himself with the apostles or with his messengers; in others he identifies himself with his followers; and again in other passages, he identifies himself with each person. The context in which Jesus speaks tells us which way to understand this identification.
Jesus' presence in his apostles is affirmed in all four Gospels, in terms which range from welcoming, not meaning only welcoming nor just hospit¬ality, to listening to his messengers. “Who hears you, hears me….”
Here are some examples:
In Matthew, "He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives him who sent me" (Mt 10:40).
In Luke, "He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me" (Lk 10:16). Here there is “listening.”
In John, "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who received anyone whom I send receives me; and he who receives me receives him who sent me" (Jn 13:20).
In this context of the mission of the apostles, Jesus identifies himself with the "child" and with the "little ones", but it is probable that Jesus used these words here also to describe his apostles, his messengers.
There were people among those sent out by Jesus who were not highly regarded by the crowd; in fact, they might even have been treated with contempt, but Jesus supported them. He wanted to inspire love for them in the Christian communities, and he wants his followers to do the same. For however weak or mediocre his followers may be they bring his word. According to the Jewish principle of Shaliah – I’m not sure how to pronounce it – already said, "A person's messenger (Shaliah) is like the person himself." In the Old Testament the messenger was considered the "mouth" of the person who had sent him (see Jer 19).
We can presume, therefore, that Jesus used the word "children" in Mark in the sense of his messengers: "Whoever receives one child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me” (Mk 9:37). We can see the same sense being given to the word "little ones" by Jesus in Matthew. "And whoever gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is my disciple, truly, I say to you, he shall not lose his reward" (Mt 10:42).
This presence of Jesus in his apostles, his messengers, receives a new value after his death and resurrection. This is understood, because after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the apostle is incorporated in Christ.
After his resurrection, the apostles are incorporated into Christ, and Christ is present in them in a real way, mystically. Their word is then efficacious in itself, and not only because the apostles have been given the responsibility for transmitting it. Jesus acts in them. Whoever receives one of the apostles after Jesus' resurrection, experiences a real encounter with the Risen One, who is in the apostles.
Paul stresses this when he writes: "You have received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus” (Gal 4:14). And again, "When you receive the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers" (1 Thess. 2:13). The beauty of Christianity starts to come forth.
In the second letter to the Corinthians – always Paul - says: "So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us" (2 Cor. 5:20) and later in the same letter "since you desire proof that Christ is speaking in me" (2 Cor. 13:3).
Besides the apostles, the Gospels also bring us confirmation of the presence of Jesus in each Christian, in the context of the life of the community formed by the disciples of Jesus. The words about welcoming, which originally referred only to the messengers, were later generalized and applied to the relation¬ships between the members of the Christian community, and in particular to relationships with those who find them¬selves in need. Because you should know that there is a very special presence of Jesus in those who suffer. Love directed toward the least of our brothers and sisters and those in need, should be considered as being directed to Jesus in person.
Luke tells us: "And an argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. But when Jesus perceived the thought of their hearts, he took a child and put him by his side, and said to them, 'Whoever receives this child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me, welcomes the one who sent me; for he who is least among you all is the one who is great'" (Lk 9:48).
In this field, as in many others, Jesus reverses the scale of values: he gives importance to what people despise. Con¬sequently, for Christians the poorest and the least are in reality the greatest and the most important, because Jesus has put himself totally on their side, to the extent that who¬ever receives one of these people receives Jesus himself.
We are dealing here with relationships between Christ¬ians, and the intention which moves them to love is consciously "supernatural". The welcoming must be carried out as Jesus says "in my name" which means having full knowledge that the reason for welcoming is in order to follow the Master's teaching. The whole of Jesus' life is a great school teaching us this way of behaving towards those who are in need.
The fact that Jesus lived in close relationship with his followers without any distinction and particularly with his suffering brothers and sisters, is also expressed in the words heard by Saul near Damascus, where he was going in order to arrest the Christians: "'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?' They were persecuted people, so Jesus was on their side. And he said, 'Who are you, Lord?' And he said, 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting'" (Acts 9:4-5).
In the Gospel we also find that the presence of Jesus in every human being is affirmed if we consider the cosmic vision of the Last Judgement, which concludes with the statement "As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Mt 25:40).
But we will discuss this in a later chapter. For every human being.
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