I do believe that each of us understands our call is to follow Jesus Christ – to be a disciple. The question for us is what does it mean to follow Christ. Can we without a doubt say that our being here in church today qualifies as following Christ or is it something else? I believe as a church we spend far too and many of our resources putting on programs that help us understand our theology dogma but too little is devoted to help us to understand the need to embrace the gift of salvation.
I do not know if you have ever driven around Boston but it is not an easy city to navigate in an automobile. The streets are laid out in a confusing manner because the streets are not in perfect symmetry and there are far too many one way streets. Years ago when I lived in Vermont I was driving a friend to Mass General for a follow up visit after his heart operation. I remember seeing the hospital as I drove the main thoroughfare near it. However every time I turned on a street thinking it would take me to the hospital only to discover I was unable to get to it. These were the days before GPS and I-phones that could navigate city streets for you. I eventually stopped a taxi driver and pointed to the hospital and asked him how to get there. He paused while thinking and eventually said “It is too hard to describe the way but if you follow me I will guide you there.”
How we are able to become followers of Jesus if the way to him is not clearly described to us? The church is clear in telling us there is no way to salvation except through Jesus Christ. So why don’t we help you to respond to the invitation to find all you seek in him? We need to first understand he is inviting us to allow him into our hearts. In the book of Revelation Jesus tells us he is knocking on the doors of our hearts and if we open he will come in and dine with us (Rev. 3:20). In the book of Revelation Jesus tells us that if we thirst for life he will give us drink from the river of life and we will thirst no more (Rev. 22:6 & 17).
The book “Intentional Discipleship” researched how we approach spiritual growth within our dioceses, our seminaries and our parishes. The revelations in that book confirm we focus on teaching ourselves how to be good Catholics and to understand our theology. Their conclusion was that we have failed to set hearts on fire for Jesus and therefore we are poor witnesses of the mercy and love of God. The result is a lack of life in our parishes that makes all we do ineffective.
Why would we need a savior if just being a good faithful member of a church is all that is required of us? If we are honest with ourselves we have to admit that we constantly fail to live up to the standards of our faith and of God’s desire for us. After 18 years of ministry I have listened to stories of infidelity, abuse, additions, self-centeredness and other weaknesses of the human heart. Each of those stories of human failure to follow God’s law of love was told to me by faithful believing Christian men and women. I have presided over their weddings, their children’s baptisms, attended their joyful celebrations and been involved in their spiritual growth. Their failure to live according to God’s will has not shocked me because like them I have failed to live according to God’s will. It confirms that teaching an understanding our theology has done nothing to help us to remain faithful to the basics of being a disciple?
If we fail so often to be faithful in following Jesus is there any hope for us? I will tell you the answer to that is an absolute yes because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The answer is found in our stopping our efforts to be “holy” and allow Jesus to lead us to the Fathers heart.
Today’s gospel shows us how easily we can fail to appropriate for ourselves the freedom that came from Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Discipleship with conditions is similar to my trying to get to the hospital as I repeatedly took the roads that led me away from the healthy life the hospital offered my friend.
If our goal is eternal life listen to the words of Jesus –“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (Jn. 5”:24). Those words should be freeing in the sense that what we seek is already ours if we just believe in and act on the gift of Jesus. We do not have to earn anything but we do have to live as disciples giving witness to God’s mercy and love.
My brothers and sisters, we have put too much emphasis on the same things the Pharisees emphasized in their effort to be faithful to the will of God. It is not in understanding theology or precise movements or posture. It is being real and loving God with grateful hearts because he has forgiven us. My first spiritual director on his death bed told me nothing I did in ministry mattered if I failed to follow Christ. He said all else is vanity that builds self esteem and would give me a false sense of dong God’s will.
Those words from the lips of a holy man on his death bed are the message of today’s three readings. Our journey is not about how faithful we are in attending mass or serving in our parishes. Our quest for holiness is not about how many hours we spend in prayer or how many spiritual growth programs we become involved in during our lifetime. It is about how we have responded to the transforming power of the Christ’s resurrection and in iallowing the Holy Spirit to guide us to Jesus.