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He saves me.

My favorite scripture passage took on new meaning when, a couple of years ago, I was walking along the cliffs and caves of northern Israel in the area of Caesarea Philippi. Jesus and his followers walked along those same caves one day. Suddenly he stopped and asked them a question so pointed that I wouldn't have the courage to pose it to my closest friend. "What do you really think of me?"

They could have said they thought he was a nut. Some people did think that. They could have told him he was too much for them. Other people thought that. They could have told him they thought he was a troublemaker. Still others thought that and crucified him for it.

They could have responded with the favorite teen phrase, "I dunno." Peter gave him the latest Gallup poll results: 29 percent think you're Elijah; 16 percent, John the Baptist; 14.2 percent, one of the prophets. But for me--you're the Savior!

In prayer, I like to imagine Jesus looking me square in the eyes and asking, "Ron, who am I to you?" I can't just tell him, "You're the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, the Lord of all creation, the Savior of the world." Those answers may be okay in creeds or catechisms. But they don't say who he is to me. Lord of all creation or Savior of the world doesn't mean much in my relationship with him unless I experience him as Lord and center of my life and my Savior.

As I really make him my Savior, my life is changed as much as Peter's was. He saves me, not just in another world many years ahead, but right here and now, today.

He saves me from my worries as I concentrate on his constant loving care. He shows care in the gospels. Even without being asked, he raises the dead son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:14). He tells me that the God who cares for the lilies of the field will certainly care for me. Worrying about what to eat and drink belongs to unbelievers. All I have to do is seek God's kingdom and the rest will be taken care of (Luke 12:27-31). I can worry about my parents' health or simply hold them up to his care. He has cared for them well for more than 80 years. That care will continue as long as they live here and then will be capped off when he wishes to bring them to the fullness of life.

I can worry about how a sermon, a counseling session, or an important interview will go. Or, recognizing what a great track record he has, I can place them in his hands, knowing that in a short time I'll be able to look back and praise him again for his wonderful works.

He saves me from loneliness as I think of his intimate presence within me. In the last words of Matthew's gospel, Jesus tells his followers he will be with us until the end of the world. That goes beyond a general guidance of church leaders. After the Resurrection people experienced a different, but real, presence of Jesus in their lives. He lives in us as the Father lives in him (John 17:23,26). He and the Father "make their home" with those who love him (John 14:23).

Sometimes I spend whole days driving by myself from one city to another to preach a parish mission. People comment on how lonely that must be. I've been doing it for more than 11 years and never found it lonely. The long drives become special times of prayer as I don't have a phone or computer to distract me, and I can just be in the presence of the Lord. I am as much a part of him as the branch is a part of the vine (John 15:5). I can't feel lonely knowing that, living in him, I am brought into the infinitely intense love triangle of Father, Son, and Spirit.

He saves me from the pursuit of my own narrow interests as I strive to meet his ideals. I could envision a very happy life soaking in the sun on the patio of a Florida beach house. I could direct all my energies to bringing that fantasy to reality. Even in ministry I could be quite comfortable walled up in my room studying and writing.

But then I hear the Lord telling me that he is served when the hungry are fed, the homeless are housed, and the naked are clothed. The love of the Lord propels me off my behind to do what I can, and encourage others to do what they can, to serve him by serving those most in need. Jesus was for others. If I want to call myself his follower, I have to strive to be the same, taking proper care of, but not getting wound up in, myself.

He saves me from being consumed by guilt about not meeting his ideals as I open myself to his forgiveness. Knowing only my sin could cast me into the depths. He tells the paralytic first that his sins are forgiven and then to arise and walk. Knowing his forgiveness allows me to walk in peace, joy, enthusiasm, and energy.

Many of the people around Jesus never experienced his saving work in their lives. Many people today, even though they profess that Jesus is the Savior of the world, still experience little of his saving work in their lives. We keep him out of certain areas of our lives where we want to hang on to our selfishness, indifference, anger, and bitterness. But he's ready to come to save us whenever and as far as we let him.

Many people emphasize the acceptance of Jesus as a personal Savior and then, unfortunately, stop there. But as I, like Peter, accept Jesus as the Messiah, my Savior, I am opened to the potential of his saving power going far beyond me.

That saving power extends to my relationships with those around me. As I try to put on his mind, I can be saved from my own negative, critical judgments of those with whom I live or interact. He challenges me not to be a critic but a lover. My own minimal power to love is fortified as I allow his patient and infinite love to flow into me.

He can save me from the drudgery or exasperation of dealing with or caring for others as I remember that whatever I do or say to them, I do or say to him. When I take time for them, I take time for him. When I'm sharp or curt with them, I'm sharp and curt with him.

His power as Messiah extends beyond the natural family to the broader family, the church. The church has the mission, like Peter, to proclaim Jesus as Messiah and Savior. But just as there is a long way from personally professing Jesus as Savior to really experiencing him as Savior, there seems to be a long way between proclaiming him as Savior and really letting him be the Savior of his spouse, the church.

I find my recognition of Jesus saving me from such ordinary things as the boredom and routine of church committee meetings. They haven't yet become fun. But they have become more bearable as I remember that each person there is part of the Body of Christ. As I listen to them and try to respect and understand their positions, I listen to Christ. As I speak to them, I speak to Christ. A finance committee or pastoral-council meeting becomes prayer as I listen and speak to the Body of Christ.

If church leadership really recognized Jesus living in the whole church, it wouldn't be necessary to gag liberation theologians who are trying to make the gospel good news for 80 percent of the world in abject poverty. Would the Jesus who is light and truth be part of the secretive scrutinies and silencings to which so many competent theologians are subjected?

One of the games being played in the church these days is "Who's got the power?" The pope, the national council of bishops, or each individual bishop? The bishop, the council of priests, or the diocesan pastoral council? The pastor, the staff, the parish council, or the parishioners?

What a change would take place if everybody recognized that the Lord has the power! He saves us from narrowly protecting our own turf. We try to understand what his will is for the church, the diocese, or the parish. We don't try to do things by our own very limited power.

We need not feel threatened by the Spirit's power shown in different ways in different members. By encouraging rather than fearing one another, laity, priests, and bishops can work together to strengthen the Body of Christ of which they are all members, with one head, Jesus.

We pray to the Lord to send laborers into his fields. We ask him to save us from what we perceive to be a shortage of vocations. He is doing so. But then church leadership ties God's hands by saying we must have the same kind of vocations we had before. Married men and women don't make it through the church's human-imposed restrictions.

What would his will be about restoring the Eucharist to the two thirds of the church presently deprived because of a lack of ordained priests, about imposing bishops on diocesan churches on the basis of their following the party line rather than pastoral gifts, or about maintaining a sexual morality tied to procreation in an overpopulated world?

On the local level, what would his will be about merging or being willing to merge parishes, about annulments and the Eucharist for the divorced and remarried, or about routine, cold, dull, and spiritless Eucharists? What would his will be about indifference to those who have drifted away from the community or about putting more resources into ostentatious buildings than into feeding the hungry?

Jesus called himself the Good Shepherd who was willing to search for the one lost sheep. He came to bring good news to the poor. He told his followers to feed the hungry. What would his assessment be of parishes whose resources primarily go to the care of the well fed who are securely in the fold?

When I recognize Jesus as Savior, I have to remember he comes not only to save individuals, not only to save the community of his followers, but also to save the world. He then saves me from just looking at my own concerns. He has me look even beyond the issues of the church in which I have a tendency to become engrossed.

What does Christ think about a woman choosing the convenience of an abortion over the life she carries? What does he think about the increasing gap between the wealthy and the poor? What does he think about building more prisons rather than trying to help change the situations in which crime flourishes?

What does he think about taking lives in prisons and wars? What does he think about funding instruments of war over programs of development? What does he think about the freedom to bear arms when they are being used to shoot our kids in the streets?

These aren't easy questions to answer. But different answers come out when I say and mean, "You are the Messiah, my Savior."
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Title Annotation:personal relationship with Jesus
Author:Luka, Ron
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Date:Jan 1, 1995
Previous Article:Could you not wait one hour with me?
Next Article:Baseball: America's diamond in the rough.

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