Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Parable of The Protestant Son

Why is it that Catholics always seem to have it together when it comes to Social Justice and community service issues? Catholics seem to be way ahead of Protestants when it comes to serving the poor, helping the homeless, and visiting the elderly. I wonder why it has taken the Protestant church so long to see how important these issues are to the gospel.

I am guessing that it has to do with our theology. Our practice is often the fruit of our theological roots. And maybe the incarnational understanding of the sacraments plays a role in developing a worldview that enables incarnational ministries.

Catholics believe that the Eucharist maintains the mystery of the incarnation of Christ. So just as Christ was mysteriously God and man, the elements of the Eucharist are mysteriously bread and body, wine and blood. For Catholics, these elements are not just symbolic of what Christ did in the past. These elements become Christ's body and blood in the present. The incarnation didn't just happen "once upon a time" but, in a unique way, continues to happen today.

Maybe this fuller understanding of the incarnation allows for a fuller understanding of what it means to live an incarnational life. The Body of Christ, which is the church, goes out into the world and participates in an incarnation of their own. Just as God did not stay distant but instead came into the world in the flesh, so the church is called not to stay distant from the world but to go into the world in a very physical way. We go and we meet not just spiritual needs but physical ones.

And not only do we as the church participate in an incarnation of our own, but we also see a present day incarnation all around us. In the "least of these," we see a new and different incarnation of Christ. "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me'." (Matt. 25:40)

Maybe the Catholics' deeper vision of the past incarnation and the present continuing incarnation gives them an upper hand in grasping the vision Jesus had for "the least of these." And maybe as we Protestants finally jump on Jesus' bandwagon of Social Justice we can begin to understand the theological roots of this kind of practice. In a sense, we Protestants are returning to values and vision of The Church we protested against all those many years ago.


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