Even the pope has to undergo an intense amount of scrutiny if he wishes to be recognized as a saint. When John Paul II died, there were many who wanted him declared a saint by the Roman hierarchy. But even in death the deceased man could not find freedom from scrutiny.
The canonization process, as it is called, consists of several steps where a person must be first said to be a “servant of God”. Then they must be placed in the category of “heroic virtue”. Next comes the recognition that they either died a martyrs death or confessed the faith in a profound way. And finally they must have at least 2 certifiable miracles attributed to them after their death.
It is hard work becoming a saint. I dare to say that it is something to which I can never hope to aspire. It is simply out of my grasp. But I am not all that worried about it.
It struck me, when reading Romans 1:1-7 that it would be a horrible thing to have the burden of proof laid upon you, or laid upon me, in being declared a saint.
Could you imagine if someone was going to pick through your life with a fine tooth comb looking for all the dirty details trying to discover whether or not you were a saint? And what if they were going to do it after your death, when you are not even around to defend yourself, or your actions?
And all they can really judge are you outward deeds, the things that you actually did with your hands or said with your lips. What about all the things that they can’t see? What about all the sins of the heart? The lust, rage, greed, or envy that you hid from everyone else, they won’t discover that, but you know about it.
The burden of proof in sainthood is a terrible thing to lay upon a person. If that is where the burden falls, upon my shoulders, then at best I am always going to wonder whether or not I deserve to be a saint. At worst, and if I am truly honest about it, I will know for certain that I am not worthy of the title.
Saint Paul (yes, he is a saint) tells us in His letter that we do not have that burden laid upon us. Sainthood is not something that human beings must attain to. It is not something that is even possible for us to grasp. And yet we, along with Paul, are saints. How?
We are saints by the same power which made Paul into an Apostle. We are called to sainthood by the Gospel of God. It is the power of the Gospel that sent Paul out to the ends of the earth preaching and teaching Jesus Christ, and it is that same good news that beckons us from the certain despair of scrutiny to the certain hope of grace and mercy.
We are called into sainthood, the obedience of faith, through the fully realized life of Jesus Christ. He is the only one who could truly stand up to the scrutiny of those who would pick through your life trying to determine whether or not you were truly a saint. He has earned that title, and He has earned it for you.
That is precisely why we celebrate the incarnation of God, the birth of Jesus Christ according to His human nature. Because in His life, in thought, word, and deed, Jesus earned the right to be called a saint, and more.
Jesus did not need to have 2 miracles certified. We have countless examples in the Scriptures God at work in Jesus Christ. He certainly lived a life of exemplary, heroic, virtue. And if anyone was a servant of God, it was the Christ.
And He was, without a doubt, martyred, put to death for the true confession that He is God-in-the-flesh. The Christ went to His death in a manner that had been unknown in the world before then, completely undeserving, yet completely willing. Jesus suffered and died, not just as a man, but as one set apart, as a saint.
Then He rose. And at His resurrection Jesus was declared to be something more than a saint. He was shown to be greater than anything a mere mortal, even a flawless mortal, could aspire to be. Jesus was proven to be the Son of God, the one and only.
And Jesus was all these things before He became a man. But that is the point of the Gospel. Having already possessed glory and honor for being the Son of God, for being completely set apart from all else that exists, Jesus set that aside, entered into our flesh, took on our weakness, and did better than we could. He did what we could not.
Jesus earned His sainthood even though He didn’t need to. He worked for and attained the title Son of God, even though it was His by divine right from all eternity. With His Incarnation, His birth, death, and resurrection, Jesus earns the greatest honor and dignity that any human being could hope for.
And then He gives it to us. Jesus does not keep these things to Himself. Rather He bestows them upon us in our baptisms. At the font we are adopted into the Lord’s family, and we inherit all that is His.
We can truly be called saints, both now and when we die, because Jesus has given us that title. He has called us saints, and so we are. Jesus lived and died so that we could be called sons of God, and so w are.
You see how much better that is? If you want to know if you can rightly be called a saint, you do not have to submit your life to a meticulous inspection. Rather, you look at the life of Jesus. Did He earn the title with His life? Did He earn that title with His death? Did He earn it with His resurrection? He did indeed.
I pity a pope, and anyone who does not have the assurance of the Gospel that we have. Even in death they cannot be sure of their sainthood. And it is because they are always looking at themselves.
There is no greater honor, no higher dignity that can be placed upon a human bring than to be called the Lord’s saints, the sons of God. And it is ours, not because we have attained it, but because Jesus has earned it, and graciously given it to us.