Recently I have been interested in the concept of joy as it relates to Christ’s promises to us. Jesus In his own words has told us that what was spoken to us was so that “…his joy would be in us and our joy may be made full” (Jn. 15:11). I remember someone quoting the philosopher Nietzsche as saying, “if Christians want me to believe they need to look more redeemed.” I have been observing people in church since Lent and Nietzsche has a valid point. We do not seem to be filled with joy as we worship together or go about our daily lives. Most Christians seem to be miserable lacking in confidence and joy.
There is a lack of certainty in the promises of God and that impacts how we go about relating to the gift of salvation. We are no different than those on the road to Emmaus who have lost hope so like them we wander away from the very thing that offers us joy. We are no different than those early Israelites as they wandered around the desert; we have glimpses of God’s presence and power but we quickly forget and grumble for something more. Our faith journey is more likely to be surrounded more by impossibilities than possibilities.
I forget where I read this but the early Church during the Easter vigil offered the newly baptized more than the Lord’s body and blood. There was another cup on the altar that contained milk and honey. It was symbolic of the hardships of the journey and of the obstacles they encountered on the way to the Promised Land. It was a reminder of the cost they would face by embracing Jesus as their savior. The newly baptized knew of the persecution that awaited them. There was definitely the possibility of death by being thrown to the lions, flogging and crucifixion. Yet they gladly took the cup of salvation. They publically proclaimed their faith with joy as they took the cup of salvation for they believed in the promise.
Their belief was obviously catching because others began to believe also because their witness was powerful to attract others to embrace Jesus as their savior. We know the early Christians had an impact on the Emperor who himself confessed a faith in Jesus Christ.
Jesus himself told us “I came that you may have life and have it abundantly” (Jn. 10:10). Yet it seems to me as I observed many over these past 10 weeks that we seem to hope he meant that instead of knowing it as a reality in our lives. We seem to be looking for that magic formula of practicing our faith, performing works of charity and striving to avoid sin because we hope for a chance to reach the Promised Land. We are more like the 11 who after spending 40 days scouting the Promised Land warn Moses about the impossible odds of conquering the people who inhabit the land God promised them – you can read about them and Caleb in Numbers Chapter 13.
It did not matter that God promised them the land. Eleven of those who scouted the land did not believe they could conquer it and convinced Moses it was impossible. Only Caleb believed and trusted but his strength of belief was not enough to change their destiny which was now to wander in the desert one year for every year spent scouting the land they were promised.
What is the lesson for us today as we hear Jesus telling us he is the gate leading to the Father? Jesus did not go through all he endured so that we could live our lives with the hope that we have earned entrance into Purgatory. No he came so that we know that by his death and resurrection we have earned our place as sons and daughters of the living God. We have been offered a path into the very presence of God by the one who controls the entrance to the sheepfold – Jesus. If we can begin to understand that truth then we can begin to live knowing we have a God who not only promised us forgiveness but a God who has promised us a place where the angels rejoice with joy because we dare to live based on that belief.
The early Christians ensured their place in heaven by saying yes and living it regardless of the threat to them and to their families. That choice to publically embrace the Christian way of life was the very thing that served to sustain them in the face of hardships. Perhaps we have it too easy for we silently have slipped into attending church without a public statement that would threaten our future. Jesus says to us “…everyone who confesses me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven (Mt. 10:32).
We have missed the importance of standing up and acknowledging Jesus in the very place we gather to worship. We have also missed acknowledging him in our work places, our homes, our places of socializing and to strangers. Jesus did not come so that we could survive but he came so that we would thrive in the midst of hardships. He did not promise us and easy road but he did promise us the only road that leads to into the presence of the Father.
We seem to prefer the scraps that fall from the table than to eat the rich food offered us by the death and resurrection of Jesus and the infilling of the Holy Spirit. The response of those who heard Peter speak asked him “what must we do.” They were “cut to the heart” and their response was bold and instantaneous. They did not hesitate to embrace him as Lord, although the death of Christ was designed to put fear into his followers and put an end to those who would follow him.
What is our response today as we listen to these readings? Do we believe that Jesus is the only gate through which we can enter the Fathers presence?
If we do believe Jesus is the only means of salvation then we must examine how we have embraced what he has offered us. Believing must impact our deepest self so that we are filled with confident assurance that we have access to the father. That assurance should make us like Caleb after he came back from scouting the Promised Land. He simply said God promised it to us so let us go forth without joy and without fear and live where God reigns.