Without Christ, we are “without hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). But who is Jesus Christ, the bearer of life-changing divine truth that brings light to our darkness?
In Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict XVI focuses on two images of Christ that frequently appeared on sarcophagi during the early centuries of Christianity. These images give us important insights as to the nature of the hope we share as Christians.
One image was that of the philosopher. Today philosophy is seen by most people as an abstract, academic pursuit with little practical relevance for daily living. That certainly wasn’t the case in ancient times. The philosopher was one who knew how to teach the eminently practical art of being authentically human–the art of living and dying.
In this regard, the Pope mentions a third-century sarcophagus picturing Jesus as the true philosopher, holding the Gospel in one hand and the philosopher’s staff in the other. With His staff, He conquers death; with the Gospel, He shows us the path to life.
Put differently, as “prophet” He brings us the Word of God, and indeed is the Word of God incarnate. As “priest-victim” He is able to conquer death and redeem fallen mankind.
Put that together, and we get Jesus Christ, who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:6).
This makes him the philosopher par excellence. His wisdom is not mere information or data, but, in the words of Pope Benedict, is “performative,” meaning that it transforms us from within. It’s life-changing.
As a true teacher of life, Christ shows us the way beyond death. He’s “been there.” This fact definitively separates Christ from all other philosophers whose merely human abilities cannot bridge the abyss between life and death. With Christ, no longer do we stand alone at this abyss, without hope and without God in the world.
The second image is that of shepherd. We know that Christ is not only priest and prophet, but also a king. The image of shepherd puts Christ’s kingship in its proper context. He is not some remote, authoritarian monarch, but the Good Shepherd who deeply cares for all His sheep.
Pope Benedict uses Psalm 23 to bring home this point. The Lord indeed is our shepherd who leads us beside still waters. His care for us exudes tranquility and serenity.
But even more, “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4). He guides us where no one else can lead us. He knows the way, and He is with us. We have no fear, because He is there to comfort us.
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me . . . and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” (Ps. 23:6).
This is the hope that Jesus Christ, the philosopher-shepherd, gives to all believers. We are no longer without God in the world. In His incarnation, God has come looking for us, and He has found us. All praise and glory to Him!