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Jesus Christ, "the Faithful Witness"

General Audience — June 8, 1988

Regarding Jesus Christ's earthly mission, we read in the Constitution Lumen Gentium of the Second Vatican Council: "The Son, therefore, came, sent by the Father. It was in him, before the foundation of the world, that the Father chose us and predestined us to become adopted sons, for in him it pleased the Father to re-establish all things (cf. Eph 1:4-5 and 10). To carry out the will of the Father Christ inaugurated the kingdom of heaven on earth and revealed to us the mystery of that kingdom. By his obedience he brought about our redemption" (LG 3).

This text summarizes all that we have been speaking about in the recent reflections in which we sought to emphasize the essential aspects of Christ's messianic mission. The Council's text again proposes to us the truth of the close and deep connection between this mission and the envoy himself, Christ, who in the fulfillment of the mission manifested his personal dispositions and talents. Certain fundamental characteristics can be noted in Jesus' entire demeanor. They are expressed in his preaching, and they make his messianic mission completely credible.

In his preaching and in his comportment Jesus showed, above all, his deep union with the Father in his thought and in his words. What he wished to convey to his hearers (and to all humanity) comes from the Father who "sent him into the world" (Jn 10:36). "I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. So what I say, I say as the Father told me" (Jn 12:49-50). "I say only what the Father taught me" (Jn 8:28). Thus we read in John's Gospel. The Synoptics also record a similar statement of Jesus: "All things have been handed over to me by my Father" (Mt 11:27). In the words, "all things," Jesus referred expressly to the content of the revelation which he brought to humanity (cf. Mt 11:24-27; similarly Lk 10:21-22).These words of Jesus manifest the spirit in which he carried out his preaching. He is and remains the "faithful witness" (Rev 1:5). This witnessing includes that particular "obedience" of the Son to the Father, which in the final moment will be shown as "obedience to death" (cf. Phil 2:8).

In his preaching Jesus also showed that his absolute fidelity to the Father as the first and ultimate source of all that was to be revealed, is the essential foundation of his veracity and credibility. "My teaching is not my own but is from the one who sent me," Jesus said, and he added, "Whoever speaks on his own seeks his own glory, but whoever seeks the glory of the one who sent him is truthful, and there is no wrong in him" (Jn 7:16, 18).

These words may appear surprising on the lips of the Son of God, spoken as they are by him who is "of one Being with the Father." However, we must not forget that he spoke also as man. It was important for him to ensure that his hearers should not be in any doubt on a fundamental point, namely, that the truth transmitted by him is divine and comes from God. It was important for him to ensure that his hearers find in his words access to the same divine source of revealed truth: they must not dwell on the one who teaches, nor let themselves be fascinated by the originality and extraordinary character of that which in this doctrine comes from the Master himself. The Master "does not seek his own glory"; he seeks solely and exclusively "the glory of him who sent him." He does not speak "in his own name," but in the name of the Father.

This, too, is an aspect of the "self-emptying" (kenosis) which, according to St. Paul (cf. Phil 2:7), will reach its peak in the mystery of the cross.

Christ is the "faithful witness." This fidelity—in seeking exclusively the Father's glory and not his own—is a result of the love which he intends to prove. "The world must know that I love the Father" (Jn 14:31). However, his revelation of his love for the Father also includes his love for humanity. "He went about doing good" (cf. Acts 10:38). His whole earthly mission was full of acts of love for people, especially for the little ones and those most in need. "Come to me," he said, "all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest" (Mt 11:28). "Come"; this exhortation is not limited to his contemporaries whom Jesus met during the days of his life and suffering on earth. It is a call for the poor of all times, ever relevant even today, always being renewed on the lips and in the heart of the Church.

Parallel to this exhortation there is another: "Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for yourselves" (Mt 11:29). Jesus' meekness and humility attract those called to his school: "Learn from me." Jesus is the faithful witness of God's love for humanity. In his testimony divine truth and divine love are united. Therefore, there is a profound conformity, one might almost say an identity, between word and action, between his deeds and his teaching. Jesus not only taught that love is the supreme commandment, but he himself fulfilled it in the most perfect manner. The Beatitudes that he taught in the Sermon on the Mount were incarnated in all that he did. Not only did he teach us to love our enemies, but he himself lived out that teaching to the full, especially at the hour of his death on the cross when he said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Lk 23:34).

However, that meekness and humility of heart in no way implied weakness. On the contrary, Jesus is demanding; his is a demanding Gospel. Is it not he who admonishes: "Whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me"? And a little later: "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Mt 10:38-39). The Gospel language is radical, and so, too, are the actual demands of the following of Christ. He did not hesitate to frequently confirm their full extent: "Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword" (Mt 10:34). It is a forceful way of saying that the Gospel is also a source of unease for people. Jesus wishes to make us understand that the Gospel is demanding. This means shaking up consciences, not allowing them to sink into a false "peace" in which they become ever more insensitive and dulled, with the result that spiritual realities would be emptied of value and lose all interest. Jesus said to Pilate, "I came into the world to bear witness to the truth" (Jn 18:37). Those words refer also to the light which he sheds over the entire field of human actions, putting to flight obscurity of thought and especially of conscience in order to secure the triumph of truth in everyone. It is a question, however, of placing oneself on the side of truth. "Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice," Jesus will say (Jn 18:37). Hence Jesus is demanding. He is not harsh or inexorably severe, but firm and unambiguous in calling everyone to live in the truth.

Thus the demands of Christ's Gospel enter into the sphere of law and morality. He who is the "faithful witness" (Rev 1:5) of the divine truth, of the Father's truth, said from the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, "Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 5:19). In calling for conversion he did not hesitate to rebuke those very towns where the people refused to believe, "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida!" (Lk 10:13), while he warned each and every one: "If you do not repent you will all perish" (Lk 13:3).

Thus the Gospel of meekness and humility goes step by step with the Gospel of moral imperatives, and even of severe threats against those who do not wish to be converted. There is no contradiction between the one and the other. Jesus lived by the truth which he announced and by the love he revealed. This is an exacting love, like the truth from which it derives. Love imposed the greatest demands on Jesus himself in Gethsemane, on Calvary and on the cross. Jesus accepted and complied with these demands to the very depths, because, as the evangelist tells us, he "loved to the end" (Jn 13:1). It was a faithful love, so that he could say to the Father on the day before he died, "The words you gave to me I have given to them" (Jn 17:8).

As faithful witness, Jesus fulfilled the mission received from the Father in the depths of the trinitarian mystery. It was an eternal mission, included in the thought of the Father who generated him and predestined him to fulfill it "in the fullness of time" for the salvation of every man and woman and for the perfect good of all creation. Jesus was conscious of this mission of his at the center of the creative and redemptive plan of the Father. Therefore, with all the realism of the truth and love brought into the world he could say, "When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself" (Jn 12:32).