May 26, 2019

His Grace Makes All the Difference

There was once a pastor whose personal copy of the New Testament was falling apart from constant use, so he sent it to a book-binding company to have it rebound.  The company did a nice job, putting on a new black imitation leather cover.  However, there was one problem:  there wasn’t enough room on the front cover to spell out the words “The New Testament” in large gilt lettering, so the bookbinder simply abbreviated it:  T.N.T.  The pastor was upset at first; why would he want a copy of the New Testament labeled after an explosive?  He was all set to complain . . . until he thought a bit more about it, and realized that T.N.T. is not a bad way of describing the spiritual force the New Testament contains (Fuller, Stories for All Seasons, p. 112).  Our Christian Scriptures, properly understood, can be powerful, spiritually explosive, radical, life-changing, and even somewhat frightening and unpredictable; if we take them seriously, our lives will never again be the same.  The reason for this is simple:  they’re all about Jesus Christ, and as True God and True Man, He is the most compelling, revolutionary, and amazing person who ever lived.  Human history revolves around Him, even to the point of labeling years as B.C.—meaning “Before Christ,”—or A.D.—the Latin words anno Domini, meaning “In the Year of the Lord.”  It’s not enough for Jesus, however, to be the Lord of history; He also wants to be the Lord of our hearts—and our lives will achieve their true purpose only if we allow this to happen.

An impartial observer at the synagogue in Capernaum might have said that Jesus didn’t know when to leave well enough alone.  Everyone there was amazed and impressed with His words—until He began saying some controversial things and reminding his audience of some unpleasant truths.  Then the people quickly turned against Him, even to the point of wanting to kill Him by throwing Him over a cliff.  If He had just played it safe and quit while He was ahead, an observer might have thought, His appearance at the synagogue would have ended quite successfully.  However, there’s a reason Jesus couldn’t do that, a reason He deliberately risked a violent response:  that’s the nature of truth.  Truth remains true even if it isn’t welcome, even if people don’t want to hear it, and even if it isn’t believed.  A so-called “truth” that’s safe, convenient, and inoffensive is a lie; because of our sinful human nature, God’s Word will always confront us with the need for personal repentance, change, and growth.  This also means that those who speak God’s Word will probably be unpopular, unwelcome, and rejected.  This was certainly the experience of the prophet Jeremiah.  Through his prophetic calling, the Lord warned him that he would be opposed by the kings and princes, the priests and people. But God also promised him: “They will fight against you but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you. . . .”  Jesus Himself, in a far greater way, experienced hatred, slander, persecution, condemnation, and even a cruel and unjust death—but through the power of God the Father, He was raised up in glory on Easter Sunday, and now reigns eternally as the King of all creation. This is the most wonderful demonstration of the power of love, which—as St. Paul tells us—will never fail.  Genuine love is willing to speak the truth, even when there’s a price to be paid.  This was true of Jesus, and in some way it must also be true of everyone who follows Him.

A missionary in India was preaching about Jesus to a large crowd; one of the listeners was a Brahman priest who, like everyone else, was given a copy of the New Testament, on the condition that he read it.  A few weeks later the pagan priest returned it to the missionary, saying, “I want you to take it back.  I find that when I read it, it kicks me, and makes me feel very unhappy” (Knight’s Master Book of 4000 Illustrations, p. 257).  This pagan discovered something we Christians often forget:  Jesus is not just a kind, loving, and admirable person; He is also very demanding, and will not stop challenging us with His truth until we, by means of His grace, have become spiritually perfect.

It’s been said that if our desires are in conflict with the truth, one of either two things must happen:  either we will repent of our sinful desires and try to conform them to the truth, or will we cling to our sins and try to twist and manipulate the truth in conformity to our desires.  We cannot serve two masters; we cannot sincerely follow Jesus and at the same time deliberately hold onto our faults and sins.  Some people try to do this, claiming that you can be a Christian and also make money your god, or you can be a Christian while ignoring the Church’s teaching on sexual morality, or you can be a Christian even as you maintain grudges against other people, or you can be a Christian while going along with the crowd and avoiding any real sacrifices in life, or you can be a Christian without actually trying to put God’s will first all the time.  None of that is true—and the New Testament confronts us with an unavoidable reality:  Jesus wants everything we have and everything we are, and He won’t be satisfied with anything less than that.

This powerful, compelling, and explosive truth would be very discouraging—were it not for the fact that God understands our weakness and helps us achieve what would otherwise be impossible.  His grace makes all the difference; His power allows the promises of Scripture to be fulfilled in our hearing.  For this to happen, however, we must first of all make room for Jesus in our lives:  by praying every day, reading the Bible on a regular basis, and asking for His guidance and assistance in all our decisions.  We must also make use of the spiritual helps He gives us:  by receiving Holy Communion at Mass every weekend, being active in the spiritual life of our parish, and going to the sacrament of Reconciliation as needed.  In addition, we must relate to other people as He desires:  by treating others as we wish to be treated, forgiving those who offend us, and praying for everyone in our lives—especially those persons we dislike for any reason.  All of these things are contrary to the way of the world—and that’s one more indication of their importance, for this world cannot give us lasting happiness or help us find true meaning in life.  Only Jesus can do that, and only if we honestly try to live by His truth.  The people of Nazareth did not have the humility, wisdom, and courage to accept Him.  By the way we live, we must prove that we have made a different choice.

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Written by
Fr Joseph Esper

REVEREND JOSEPH M. ESPER is a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit and pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Anchorville, Michigan. He received his Master of Divinity degree from St. John's Provincial Seminary in Plymouth, Michigan. Through the years, Father Joe has lectured at Marian conferences, appeared on EWTN, spoken on Catholic radio, and written more than a dozen articles for This Rock, The Priest, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, and other publications. He is also the author of numerous books, including Saintly Solutions, More Saintly Solutions, After the Darkness, Lessons from the Lives of the Saints, and Why Is God Punishing Me? In addition to Amazon, many of his most recent books are available through Queenship Publishing.

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Written by Fr Joseph Esper