Throughout our lives, “what must I do” is a common question we ask ourselves. What must I do to get that job? What must I do to please my parents? What must I do to pass the bar with a high enough score to meet the acceptance standards of a certain university? What must I do to pass that upcoming test? What must I do to lose weight? What must I do to become an astronaut? What must I do to increase my worth to my company? What must I do to lose weight? Sometimes the question is presented with different words, but the intent is the same; what must we do to attain a certain goal, or have we done enough to gain what we desire.
It is also a common question I have heard since the beginning of my ministry, especially from individuals regarding attaining heaven and if their life has been pleasing to God. One month after I was ordained, I heard that question from Larry as he lay in that hospice facility. Did he do enough to please God and gain eternal life. He was not certain and was concerned about his destiny. At some point we all reflect on our lives and if we have met God’s standards.
The rich young man posed that same question to Jesus and when the answer came, he was unable to do what was required. What was it that held him back, making him unable to do more than the minimum of following the law? Is following Jesus that difficult for us to do?
Listening to John the Baptist as he responds to that question it seems like it would be clear if you have done enough. If you have two cloaks give one away. If you collect taxes do not extract more than the amount of the tax. If you are a soldier, follow orders and do not administer harsher punishments than required. Give anyone clear rules and there will be certainty enough to know if we have done enough. However, Larry followed the rules and the laws of the church and yet he was not certain he had done enough.
So, the question we should be asking is not what we must do because that question is too narrow in its focus. God desires more from us because what we must do is more than a onetime response if we call ourselves Christians. We cannot just give away one cloak, we must daily give whatever God asks us to give him. John’s message was we must prepare a way for the Lord. It is not good enough for us to make a special effort to clean the house to get ready for him. No, we must be willing to daily clean, daily wash, daily be preparing our hearts for him to dwell in them. It is not good enough to occasionally do something that shows we are followers of Jesus. No, we must daily be willing to do or to serve where Jesus is leading us.
Advent is a time when the Church prepares us to encounter Christ. It is John the Baptist all over again crying out, “prepare the way for the Lord.” Our response should be more than those in today’s gospel who only wanted an easy answer to what they had to do. In fact, that very question is one we should constantly be asking ourselves. However, the real question is “what must we do after we take that first step to encounter Christ?” If you pay attention to the words of Christ, you will discover repentance is the first step; there is much more required of us.
God has been clear, it is our hearts he desires not our works. It is easy to give a cloak. It is much harder to give our heart. In fact, his response to those who so boldly reminded him how they dined with him and did mighty works in his name were shocked by his response; he told them he did not know them, and they were evil doers.
What must we do to know Christ should be our question? It should be the very first thing we ask ourselves as we wake up each day. If we reflect on the reason Jesus was sent by the Father, our questions change from what we must do to who we must become. What we must do is believe in the promise of God. His promise was clearly spoken to us when he said he “…sent his Son so that those who believe in him will not perish but have eternal life.” It is so simple and yet it is very, very hard to live a life of total and absolute belief that we can do nothing to earn salvation.
Here is where the “what must we do question” gets in the way of preparing ourselves to follow Christ. For it is not what we must do it is what God has done and what is our response to that act. The hardest thing for us to do is to live the life of salvation each day. Larry began to grasp that promise before he died and all those years, he spent worrying about what he had to do was replaced by the joy of knowing his faith in God’s promise was enough. He began to give thanks for the gift of forgiveness and mercy and looked forward to feeling the embrace of the Father.
He began to live the life of a disciple each day as he began each day by repeated the exhalation of Mary. We, like Larry, would not have to ask the question of “what must we do” if we too believe in our hearts the words, we say are fact because they are the result of God’s grace. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my Spirit rejoices in God our savior. For he who is mighty had done great things and holy is His name.
Come Lord Jesus, Come and be born in our hearts.