I sat there listening to him describe his fears, his doubts and his struggles with what awaited him. He was terminal and although we had talked for months he was still struggling with his failures from years long gone. If we believe in the sacrament of reconciliation, why do we believe that only punishment awaits us because of those sins of so long ago?
I have come to understand what our first reading says about us and our inability to comprehend what God has planned for us. The book of wisdom tells us that our “deliberations are timid” when it comes to what God intends for us. That was certainly true as I listened to his concerns about what awaited him – timid thinking leads to uncertainty and fear. I wonder why we fear a God who tells us it is his desire that none should perish (Jn. 3:16).
Many of you hearing the gospel today and even my beginning of this homily will believe the gospel is all about preparing for our final day. I believe these passages have little to do with our final day because if you read the chapters before this gospel and even this one you would understand Jesus has been teaching us about discipleship. He has been teaching us about living in the kingdom he came to establish on this earth. He has been giving us parables of how we as disciples are to live and act in this kingdom.
In order to deal with the unseen and unplanned events we will encounter in life we must first understand what it is God desires of us. The scriptures show us time and time again the thing God requires of us is far more than doing some religious act. If you think about it, religious acts are easy. They can be time consuming and often times demanding but they do leave us feeling better about ourselves. I am not saying we should do them because they do benefit us and help us to grow in our faith and to learn discipline. Those two qualities are necessary in being a disciple.
What I am saying is more is required of us. It is this inability live our spiritual life beyond “doing things’ which causes us to be fearful and doubtful as we approach death. We should ask ourselves this question – did any religious act we performed make any difference in how God views us.
We ask that of ourselves because we have heard the scriptures read each and every week. Without us ever picking up a bible and reading it we have heard that God does not desire sacrifice and offerings instead he desires a contrite heart (Hos. 6:6). The truth is God is not interested our failures but he is very interested in allowing his mercy to cover our sins and heal our wounded hearts.
God has always been clear in that he wants out hearts and nothing less. The scriptures are clear in telling us that no amount of learning, sacrificing, praying, fasting, studying or serving will help us surrender our hearts. This is the message of today’s gospel when God is telling us not only to prepare for giving him our hearts but also to count the cost.
Let me tell you another story of someone I was with before his death – my first spiritual director. I remember our conversation like it was yesterday. He was a holy man and lived his life in a manner that I believe pleased God very much. He was prepared to die and when he told me he was afraid it shocked me. I asked him why and he said bluntly because it would be his first time dying and he did not know how. The more we talked I understood that he was talking about his final surrender of self to God. He told me he still had not surrendered everything to God and this was the final step and it was difficult to totally place yourself into God’s hands. That is why we would will choose to perform religious acts over surrender because they are easy in comparison to total surrender.
However, we are called to be disciples not church goers. The cost of discipleship is challenging because it moves us into total trusting God’s plan for our lives instead of our own plans.
Here is the problem with God’s plan; he invites you to follow him without making it clear where you are going. Peter, step out of the boat and come to me walking on the water as you come. Mary, you will be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and bear a son. Matthew will you leave your tax collecting and follow me. Hearing the call is easy, following where he leads is hard but if we do follow we will grow in understanding that mercy and forgiveness is ours.
In order to follow we must first listen for his voice speaking to our hearts. We can do that if we open our hearts and invite the Holy Spirit to pour God’s love into our hearts.
Then we must daily pray as Jesus prayed. We must not absent ourselves from the faith community where we are supported in our discipleship. We must immerse ourselves in the Word of God – the Holy Scriptures – in order to hear the father’s voice as he teaches us the way of discipleship. We must understand that in the scriptures is found the “wisdom” of God” and we must embrace the “the Holy Spirit from on high” and thus (will our) paths…on earth (be) made straight “(from today’s reading – Wis. 9:18b). This is the way we prepare for anything and everything that will attempt to convince us God does not desire to forgive and forget our sins.