Why can’t I just go direct to God? This question arises at every step of the way. The Protestant doesn’t understand why he needs to confess his sins to a priest. But the non-Christian asks the Protestants why he even needs Christ: why can’t I just go direct to God?
The non-religious person who believes in God, meanwhile, asks why he needs any kind of spiritual discipline, books, or teachers, instead of just contemplating God free-form; the person who believes in God but does not pray asks why he can’t just experience God through the rest of life; and even the atheist, at bottom, asks why he can’t experience the Good directly, without having to clog things up with talk about God.
On the other end, many Catholics don’t see why they need the liturgy, the Bible, or Mary. Why can’t I just go direct to God?
Charles de Koninck, a great Thomist of the mid-twentieth century, called this “the scandal of mediation.” Medium means “in the middle”: why does there have to be something between us and God?
The first answer, of course, is just that mediators help. When the Protestant asks why I “have to” confess to a priest, I say, “I get to.” It’s wonderful to have something to hang on to, some concrete experience. But let us consider this theme in this Sunday’s readings.
When John baptized Jesus, he saw fulfilled what he had been told beforehand: “On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” Oh my, the many mediations!
Jesus is the true baptizer, the one who gives us the Holy Spirit. He stands “between” us and the Holy Spirit – but not as an obstacle. He is the giver. He is that kind of mediator: one who gives, who makes present. And he gives the Spirit not “directly” but through baptism – which, again, stands “between” us and God not as an obstacle, but as a giver.
Meanwhile, John encounters Christ through the image of a dove. The dove does not conceal, but reveals. It shows John what he could not see without it. It is a mediator that gives him access to Jesus.
Finally, John himself is a mediator, the one who calls, “Behold, the Lamb of God” (a symbolic expression that mediates the reality of Jesus) “who takes away the sin of the world.” Both John and the symbolic expression reveal Jesus to us: they are mediators.
The reading from the first three verses of First Corinthians is deliciously simple. “Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.” It is the will of God not that we come to him immediately, but that there be apostles – apostles of Christ Jesus, mediators of the Mediator. But Paul is not hiding Jesus. He is not an obstacle. To the contrary, the apostles make Jesus present, they bring him to other places. The apostles are the radiation of the presence of Jesus: he was in one place, and they make him present in others. Thank God for those mediators!
“To the church of God that is in Corinth.” So too with the Church. To be part of the Church is not an obstacle, but an opportunity. Being part of the Church means being able to receive the word – the word of God, through Jesus, through the Apostle. (So too with the sacraments.)
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father”: ah, direct! Oh, no: “. . . and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Through whom we have access to the Father.
The problem is, the mediators have to be good ones, ones who reveal and do not conceal, who make present the reality of God and not . . . something else. And this is what the prophet (a mediator) Isaiah says in our first reading. “I am made glorious in the sight of the LORD, and my God is my strength.” Isaiah can be a prophet because the power is not his. It is a power granted to him by God. But truly granted to him, so that Isaiah’s words can truly be God’s words.
“You are my servant, Israel, through whom I show my glory.” It is God who does it: I show my glory. The God who “formed me as his servant from the womb,” the Creator, is also able to act through his creation. “I will make you” – I will make you – “a light to the nations.”
That is all of our call, my friends: to be mediators of the presence of Christ, and to find him through the mediators he gives us.
Are there ways you could better embrace God’s chosen mediators? Do you ever treat them as obstacles, when they are meant to be opportunities? How do you use those mediators to make yourself a better mediator?