Every so often the Sunday readings come along and my first response is, “Yes, Jesus, but . . . !” This week certainly fits the bill. The readings are jarring, they shake us out of our comfort zones, and, at least for me, they give rise to all sorts “rational” reasons why the gospel just isn’t practical in the real world in which we live. Let me give you some examples.
First, Jesus (and Moses) gives us a message of radical inclusion. He suggests that even those that aren’t part of our “in” group are capable of bearing witness to God’s love. Challenging stuff! I want to say, “Yes, Jesus, but . . . what if they get it wrong? What if they don’t have the right theology? Or, what if they create another ‘in’ group of your followers that doesn’t look like my own?” But Jesus cuts through my logic and reminds us that the Spirit knows no bounds. Jesus challenges my righteous indignation and calls me to embrace those who look, act, and think differently than I do.
Second, Jesus gets even more radical. If I put stumbling blocks in the way of others’ spiritual growth, then it would be better if a millstone were tied around my neck and thrown into the sea. I reply, “Yes, Jesus, but . . . what if they don’t know the right path to heaven? What if they choose spiritual practices that make me uncomfortable? What if they’re too charismatic or too traditional or too politically active?” But Jesus doesn’t buy my argument and I’m challenged not to get in people’s way when they’re trying to find their way to God . . . even if that path looks different from my own.
Third, reading the letter of James, we are reminded that the future is bleak for the rich. Again, I want to say, “Yes, Jesus, but . . . I’m rich.” Maybe this is the biggest challenge of all. How do I follow the gospel message of radical concern for the poor, what the church calls God’s “preferential option for the poor,” when I reap the benefits of living in a wealthy pocket of the world? I like my creature comforts, I like the security that a bank account gives me and my family, and I really like RRSPs! How do I become part of what Pope Francis calls a “church that is poor for the poor”?
This week’s readings hit me right between the eyes. But, then again, they are doing exactly what Scripture is supposed to do. The book of Hebrews reminds us that the Word of God “is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb 4, 12). It is meant to shake us out of our comfort zones into a deeper, truer, more compassionate way of living. It is designed (by God, I believe) to shape our imaginations and lead us more fully into God’s vision for humanity. So, what might this look like in our everyday world?
It might mean thinking twice before presuming that other expressions of discipleship are less valid than my own. It might mean getting off the beaten track of my own spiritual practices and seeking to understand how others seek God. It might mean making different choices about how I spend my money, ensuring that the needs of those who are poor or suffering in any way are taken into account as well.
Fortunately we are not alone in our response to the challenge of the gospel. It might be impossible to follow the scriptural imperative if we were trying to do it solo, but we aren’t. We are trying to follow God’s call in community, as the Body of Christ, as church. So we have beacons that help point out the way. We have only to read Pope Francis’ latest encyclical, Laudato Si’, to be inspired to a more gospel-centred way of living in the real world. Or, closer to home, we can read the Canadian bishops’ recent letter, A Church Seeking Justice, to help us reflect on what it means to follow God’s call to justice in Canada.
And perhaps we don’t even have to look that far. Who are the prophets in our neighbourhood? Who are the saints sitting next to us in the pew? These are people who help us imagine what it is to live according to the gospel challenges in the real world today.
If I were to write a mathematical equation for this week’s readings, I think it would look like this: TC + GH - J. Start with “tender compassion” toward those who are poor or suffering in any way. Add “gentle humility” regarding our own favourite spiritual paths, and subtract “judgement” of those who look, act or think differently than we do. TC + GH - J just might be the formula for healthy discipleship that Jesus is calling us to embrace today!
Rompré is the director of Mission and Ministry at St. Thomas More College in Saskatoon.