The overall message of Scripture is comforting. Our divine Creator loves us, forgives our sins, and offers the gift of eternal life. This message truly brings peace of mind. But sometimes the specific words of Jesus can be downright unnerving. For example, in the gospel reading at Mass this week, Jesus offers these two statements: “If anyone comes to me without hating his [family]…and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple,” and “Anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”
Comforting words? I don’t think so. Especially in present-day America.
It’s ironic that in today’s culture, followers of Christ are commonly associated with traditional values and old-fashioned views. However, Jesus Christ is the most radical, bomb-throwing revolutionary ever to walk the earth.
Jesus takes the most widely accepted human beliefs and practices—the “traditional” ways of looking at things—and turns them completely upside-down. For example:
People strive to be successful and accumulate possessions, but Jesus comes along and says, Forget about it! Possessions are meaningless!
People work hard to be noticed and receive praise from others, but Jesus says, Waste of time! You have to be completely UNNOTICED to be exalted!
People toil night and day to win the rat race, but Jesus says, Stop! Even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat! You have to stop competing in the race to win the race!
This is radical stuff. This is the kind of thinking that gets a person labeled as a wacko and occasionally thrown into prison. (And occasionally crucified.)
Throughout history, whenever Christians were considered wackos by mainstream society, the Church was most vibrant and alive. During other times, when being a Christian was commonplace and respectable in society, the Church became fat and lazy and did little to inspire vibrant faith.
Here in America, in the early stages of the 21st century, we are undoubtedly living in a post-Christian culture. Secular unbelievers are firmly in control of all the major societal institutions: government, business, the media, and education.
It is no longer mainstream to be a follower of Christ. We are officially on the fringe of modern society. We are routinely labeled “extremist,” “intolerant,” and “dangerous” because, among other things, we believe:
- Perversion is perverse.
- Killing babies in not a wonderful thing.
- People have a constitutional right to utter the word “Jesus” in public.
All this does not bode well for the future of the good ol’ U.S. of A., but it is an opportunity for the Church’s faith to become vibrant and alive. We can shine the light of Truth in a dark and dying world.
Since believing in Jesus is once again subversive, we can stop worrying about being accepted and “fitting in.” We can be liberated by the knowledge that we’ll NEVER fit it. (Unless, of course, we deny our Lord. Then we’ll fit right in at all the trendy secular gatherings, especially that particular trendy secular gathering known as Hell).
When we try to “fit in” to secular society, then the words of Jesus offer very little comfort. But when we renounce the idolatry of our modern age—consumerism and self-aggrandizement—and instead put our faith and hope in God, then Jesus’ words will bring comfort.
When Jesus said we must renounce all our possessions, I don’t think He meant we have to lose all our possessions and live in abject poverty. I believe He meant we must be emotionally detached from our possessions, to the point where if we someday lose all our material goods, it really won’t bother us too much.
So let’s be radicals. Let’s rebel against society. Let’s store up spiritual treasure in Heaven rather than frantically scrambling to accumulate material things here on earth. Let’s be truly free and liberated by worshipping the Lord rather than worshipping our stuff.