In elementary school, I remember the way teachers would sort large groups of students into smaller ones. Whether they were sorting by grade or class, each of us came to know one thing. When we walked through the school doors, we were fair game for—-sorting. The reality is that during our earthly years, the process of sorting continues. But, as we age, a transition occurs. We become less the sorted and instead assume the role of sorter.
Throughout our lives, we are provided with opportunities to choose. Our college. Our spouse. Our career. Even the sports teams we follow. As each building block is set into place, another follows. By graduating from college, we become alumni. By marriage, we begin a new chapter in our life that results in a new family. By choosing a certain career, we become identified with a certain profession. And yes, even our choice to follow certain sports teams link us to groups of like-minded individuals who share the same passion.
Through our sorting and choices, we build an identity for ourselves. And it is through this identity that others come to know us. For example, while attending college, James and Susie Smith met and fell in love. Today, they are both professionals, raising four children, and avid fans of the New York Yankees. Rather harmless, don’t you think?
But what you don’t know about James and Susie Smith is that they have chosen to follow another. Jesus Christ. In following Him with their whole hearts, onlookers declare their actions on behalf of the poor to be refreshing and uplifting, although some freely admit that they needn’t constantly remind them on whose behalf they serve. Aside from their helping actions, still others find their worldview alarming, forceful, intrusive, and judgmental. For example, when expressing their views on marriage, they describe such unions as consisting of one man and woman. By doing so, some declare them as homophobic and uncaring toward other lifestyle choices. In arguing on behalf of traditional marriage, they note their reasoning is based upon Natural and Divine law and the teachings of the Catholic Church. In response, their detractors label them as the worst sort of bigots. And when other issues are mentioned, they are again reminded that their deeply-held beliefs are terribly wrong and out-of-step with modernity.
Nevertheless, despite feeling rejected and marginalized, the Smith’s decide to remain on this dusty and seemingly less-traveled road. Why?
Wouldn’t it be easier for them (and us) to just go along and get along? After all, what is gained by rocking the boat when our culture is clearly changing? And since we can’t change things, shouldn’t we simply look the other way? By doing so, however, wouldn’t we be adopting the approach of the rich young man who, after encountering Jesus, chose to quietly leave Him?
But, I wonder. Wouldn’t it be more exciting to be swept up like St. Paul and allow the Lord to guide our lives?
With our enthusiasm, however, the whispers of others grow louder and eventually reach a point where they may be heard. “Don’t they know that such a road is difficult? Don’t they know that others will chastise them for not just believing in Jesus but also attempting to imitate Him—by the actions of their lives? And don’t they know that such a lifestyle will lead them toward being marginalized and prevent them from attaining the most important fruits offered by this world?”
Nevertheless, having taken the less-traveled road, we ignore the objections and wisdom of the times and boldly strike out to proclaim Jesus as Lord of our lives. But still, moments of doubt appear—and whisper our names. Are you sure about all of this? And it is then we hear the words Jesus spoke to the twelve: Will you also go away? And like St. Peter, we declare: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God. (Jn 6: 67-69)
Throughout our lives, it is true that we have been sorted. But it is equally true that we have been given the wisdom to sort through that which is temporal and eternal. It comes down to this: Shall we go along to get along? Or, will we strive for the eternal prize?