by Joel Padgett
September 20, 2019
We live in an increasingly polarized society, and as we live and breathe within this culture, it would be naïve to think that it does not in some way rub off on us. For as long as we are members of the Church, we are bound both to bring and to find it in our relations with other members of Christ’s mystical body. Interesting enough, the etymology of the word “devil” is “to divide,” and polarization is simply one of the many ways of dividing and conquering. And wherever there is a dynamic of division, there is always an attempt toward gain, whether that battle be within a society or within one’s soul. Conversely, Christ, during the Last Supper, prayed that his followers “may all be one” (John 17:21).
One of the paths toward growth in unity is to meditate more and more upon the essential truths at the heart of Christianity. And the truth of Christianity is not a set of ideas to pick and choose from, but a person who has already picked us: Jesus Christ, “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). The more that we get to know Him and the more that we allow Him to transform us and gradually conform us to His image, the greater our union shall be.
Here are 10 biblical passages that—taken as a whole—I believe to be at the heart of Christianity. I think that if we take them to prayer, wrestle with them, ruminate on them, and allow them to transform us, they, in turn, will take us on a “cultural exodus” that leads to greater freedom from our culture’s tendency toward polarization and greater freedom for reinvigorating culture through Christ. I’ve merely listed them in order of appearance in the Bible, and the list is far from exclusive. So grab a Bible and follow Mary’s example of pondering in your heart (cf. Luke 2:19) … or write me and let me know 10 passages you believe to be at the heart of Christianity. Just remember, it is not a list of favorite Bible quotes but of passages that as a whole speak to the essence of Christianity.
- Genesis 1-3, The Story of Creation and the Fall of Man. This passage reveals God’s original intention for creation, the inherent order and goodness of all creation, the reality of man and woman as created in the image and likeness of God, the equal dignity of men and women, and humanity’s responsibility vis-à-vis creation. It also speaks of our fallen state and how humanity’s fall affected the whole created order. Consequently, it lays the foundation for the need of healing (salvation) and reconciliation with God.
- Deuteronomy 5-6, The Decalogue and the Great Commandment. This passage speaks of the covenant relationship between God and his people, as well as how God relates to his people through the mediation of Moses. In the Decalogue, we are called to uphold a right relationship toward God, humanity, and creation. Jesus references the Shema Israel in Mark 12:28-34 and expounds upon it, including the aspect of loving one’s neighbor as oneself. Lastly, this passage recalls the Exodus and the importance of passing on the remembrance of God’s promises and saving action on to future generations.
- Matthew 5:1-12, The Beatitudes. The Beatitudes reveal the mysterious, paradoxical character of the “Good News” of Jesus Christ. Although lived already in the here and now, they achieve further meaning in light of the “not fully yet” of the world to come.
- Matthew 6:9-15, The Lord’s Prayer. Jesus Christ, God incarnate, teaches us to pray. He also reveals that God is our Father. The flip side is what we find in 1 John 2:28-3:2: we are truly “children of God.”
- Mark 14-16, The Paschal Mystery and the Missionary Mandate. These three incredibly rich chapters include the institution of the Eucharist, as well as Christ’s passion, death, Resurrection, and Ascension. In 1 Corinthians 15:12-20, St. Paul makes an argument for the Resurrection being at the heart of Christian spirituality and the foundation for our hope in the resurrection of the dead. Lastly, this passage speaks of the disciples’ mission to the world, which in Matthew’s version (chapter 28), also includes explicit mention of the Trinity and Jesus’ promise to be with us always.
- Luke 1:26-38, The Annunciation. Discipleship is at the heart of Christian spirituality, and Mary’s attitude and response to God is a model of discipleship. In her initial question to the angel, one detects a quality of “faith seeking understanding,” a motto that St. Anselm later made famous. Furthermore, her fiat bears a striking similarity to both how Jesus teaches us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer–“thy will be done”–and Christ’s own prayer in the garden of Gethsemane–“not my will, but thine, be done.” Lastly, we see how God continues to use certain individuals as mediators in his relationship to humanity.
- John 1:1-18, The Prologue. This passage is a sort of summary of God’s plan for creation in light of the mystery of the Incarnation. All creation came to be through God, who is the source of all life. It is through Jesus Christ that we are able to become children of God, and it is Jesus who reveals the Father to us.
- John 15, The Vine and the Branches, and the Commandment of Love. For me, the image of the vine and the branches calls to mind what St. Paul wrote about in 1 Corinthians 12-13 when he speaks of the reality of the mystical body of Christ. It also calls to mind the doctrine of mutual indwelling. In addition, the commandment of love that we find here has its foundation in the very nature of God, who “is Love” (1 John 4:7-21). Lastly, Jesus reveals that he wishes for us to have a relationship of friendship with him.
- John 17, The Priestly Prayer of Jesus. Jesus’ prayer reveals the nature of eternal life and our call to share in it. It also speaks of God’s desire for our sanctification and unity.
- Philippians 2:5-11, Hymn in Praise of Jesus Christ. St. Paul exhorts us to have the mind of Christ, which speaks to our need to be conformed to Jesus. St. Paul also writes of Jesus’ self-emptying in becoming incarnate and the power of His name. Christ’s humility and obedience ultimately led to his exultation in glory, and we are called to imitate those same virtues.