As He was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by the demons begged to go with Him. But Jesus would not allow him. “Go home to your own people, He said, “and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy He has shown you.” So the man went away and began to proclaim throughout the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And everyone was amazed.…
At dinner, we have been reading from the book of Acts in a children’s Bible. We are on the part where Paul has an encounter with Jesus, then goes to the disciples and is baptized. How admirable he was! He passionately pursued and served God–first as a persecutor of the Church, and then even more so as an evangelist for the Lord. He laid aside everything for this Gospel he received–his future in the Jewish community, his certainty of things he had been taught, his status, even bodily safety. He put the Truth of God first and achieved great things.
When one looks around at the church here in the U.S.A., we don’t see too many believers with that same zeal, unfortunately. Around 70% of the U.S. population is “Christian”, yet our society is falling apart. Clearly, things are not as they should be. Most of us, I believe, see ourselves as “Christian” in the same way we see ourselves as Texans fans, or as a teacher, or a person who prefers sandals in the summer, or who reads mystery novels, or doesn’t like to camp–it is just one of the categories of things to be to define who you are in relation to other people. It should not be this way. Being Christian is not just one of the many things you can choose to be. It is the one most important and first thing to decide upon before doing anything else. You couldn’t build a house until you put in the foundation, nor should you choose what kind of clothes you will wear or what movies you will watch until you first decide what is True with regard to eternal things. In other words, this is the question that informs everything else in your life. This right relationship with Jesus is the Pearl of Great Price for which we will have to sell everything else we have in order to obtain it.
Last night my husband and I were discussing some theological questions I had. I asked him, “If we really believe what we profess week after week at church, and the world around us is so full of sin and suffering and is lost, how should we be living? What should we be doing to respond as if we truly believe this stuff and want to put God first?” His answer was a disappointment: “We should be a good Christian family.” I was dreaming of saving the world, going to some foreign mission, healing children in poverty, laying my life on the line to bring the Good News to the people who have never heard the holy name of Jesus…you know, something exciting, important, not here with these people I live with every day. Subconsciously, I was wanting to escape the work that God has given me in order to “serve God” and put him first. In other words, I was looking to serve my own ego and run away from the really hard and frustrating, sometimes boring life of mine I now lead. I was seeking something like the meaningful, adventurous, and exciting mission of St. Paul or the great work of love St. “Mother” Teresa was called to. But what they did was not about seeking excitement or personal fulfillment. It was about loving God and others. They (along with all the rest of us) were called to live lives of sacrificial love–this can be lived out in many ways. One of the ways many of us are called to live this life of love is in the family.
Our world is full of lost people who look around and see the “Christians” getting divorced and jockeying for worldly success and accolades. They see our churches as social clubs for the better-than-you people. They see nothing loving or Christlike about most of us. I believe it was Gandhi (a devout Hindu who was more Christian than most Christians) who said that he was so moved by the teachings of Jesus that he would have become Christian if it weren’t for the Christians. The “Christians” he saw around him didn’t follow the teachings of their own God, and treated Gandhi’s countrymen horribly. People were created with a God-shaped hole in their hearts and are restless, like St. Augustine said–people are looking to fill that hole. They need to not only hear the scriptures and teachings of the Church, but they need to see real people living it out in their midst. Without fanfare, without drama–just doing the hard work of laying down our lives and loving people and God. I believe that if they saw more of us living out this humble, quiet Christian life, they would see the Truth and Beauty of the Gospel message and choose that life for themselves.
Just like the man who wanted to go off with Jesus after being healed and Jesus told him to go home and tell everyone what God had done for him, Jesus, through my husband, was telling me to go home–that I need to tend my own soul’s garden and pull up all the weeds there, that I need to love the difficult people in my home and pray and trust God to help us through the daily troubles that arise. The mission I have been given, like St. Paul’s, is difficult, meaningful, and important. It is to learn to love and serve God by laying down my life for the people in my life, especially the ones who share my home. This is being a living sacrifice and I am often tempted to run off of the altar.
The world needs believers who have chosen to be living sacrifices who put God first. If we were truly doing this and fervently praying for the grace to do this, more of us would be able to live in intact and loving families, raising righteous children who go on to create loving families of their own and inspire others to give their lives to God. It starts with each of us choosing to quietly do the hard and unglamorous work of taking up the cross, laying our lives down, and loving God and others. Sometimes that looks like doing the laundry, changing the poopy diaper, driving someone to dance class, praying for reconciliation with a spouse, and putting up with the ungrateful preteen who knows everything.
St. Paul, pray for us to be people who love God totally and put him first, ahead of our own ambitions, our preconceived notions, and our own comfort like you did. Pray that we may seek and prefer nothing to the True God and his loving will for us.