If you were in a public square surrounded by many individuals, imagine being asked this question by a friend of Jesus: “Right now, would you walk to the focal point of the square and speak for 5 minutes about how Jesus has impacted your life?”
I imagine that most of us would receive this question with fear and trepidation. Why? Perhaps it is because most of us prefer to keep our relationship with Jesus at a personal level.
But, I wonder. Are relationships truly personal? It is true that most relationships are initially formed between two individuals. In marriage, for example, the relationship is between one man and one woman. Or in regard to our friendship with Jesus, it is between Jesus and each of us.
However, does it all end there? Or, do relationships grow into something more? Returning to our example of marriage, there is an intimate sharing of a couple’s love. And nine months later, God willing, another soul has entered the scene. How about our relationship with Jesus? On an ongoing basis, there is also an intimate sharing with Him. In prayer, we share with Him our hopes and desires. And gradually, or sometimes suddenly, we come to hear His voice deep within our hearts. As such, through our encounter with Jesus, He provides us with insights and sometimes even paths we might walk to achieve His Divine Will in our lives. But do we hold this secretly within our hearts, or through our unfolding mission, do we share this Divine guidance and wisdom with others? I suggest the latter and move you to read verses 14-16 from the 5th Chapter of Matthew’s Gospel.
For there, immediately following His revelation of the Beatitudes, Jesus clarifies this with a very clear answer:
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”
On this 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, do not the scriptures scream of this? Do not the scriptures call us to step out of our comfort zone and share the Good News with others—even when it might bring its deliverers a level of discomfort?
The Prophet Jeremiah (20:7-9), for example, exhibits what Scripture scholars describe as the “Persecution and Complaint of the Prophet.” Throughout Salvation history, the prophets have been called-and-sent by God to root up, tear down, build, and plant. For the prophet, this sounds okay until the ruling authorities declare that “enough is enough.” In Jeremiah’s case, his “reward” for disturbing the status quo was to be placed on public display so that all might mock him. Following this, Jeremiah appears fed up with the Lord and says:
“I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak of his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.”
Why? Because he loves the Lord. And the Lord has placed him at a great service to his people.
The same is true of the psalmist (#63) as he sings that “Our souls thirst for the Lord” in the sanctuary and everywhere else we may go.” And St. Paul? In his Letter to the Romans (12:1-2), the Apostle notes that God loves us so much that there is only one thing we can give Him. Our very selves! And once given, we should ask Him to transform our every thought and motivation.
These three (Prophet, Psalmist, and Apostle) lead us to this encounter between Jesus and Peter in the Gospel of Matthew (16:21-27). Now, if we can recall Jesus’ words to Peter last Sunday (Mt 16:13-20), Peter is riding high. For Jesus has told Peter (in the presence of the disciples) that He was the rock upon which He would build His church and given him the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
In this Gospel passage, Jesus teaches the disciples that His ministry will lead Him to suffer and die. But that on the third day, He would be raised. As Monday morning quarterbacks, this seems quite reasonable. But at the time, Peter was not convinced that this was the correct course. And so, he took Jesus aside and told him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” But instantly, Jesus rebuked him saying, “Get behind me, Satan!”
Is Peter—Satan? Of course not. But Jesus is trying to instill in the disciples the important virtues of listening and learning. As disciples, we should always strive our best to comprehend the mind of God despite the reality that, as creatures, we will always fall short. So, in our walk with God, there is humility and trust that is required. The lives of Jeremiah, Paul, and Peter point out that following the Lord is not an easy undertaking. On the journey, there are twists and turns and roadblocks that we trust the Lord will help us resolve. And there are also the many crosses we are required to bear in acknowledging to the world our relationship to him. By doing so:
Some might mock us.
Some might slander us.
And still others might seek to do us physical harm.
But Jesus tells us, don’t worry. Don’t be afraid. Be my instrument and I will be your God.
In closing, I want to leave your with a story of modern day discipleship that has been unfolding on Saturday mornings in a public park that may put your hearts at rest.
Having taken to heart the Archbishop of Detroit’s pastoral letter, Unleash the Gospel, the priests of Our Lady of Good Counsel parish in Plymouth, Michigan have begun sitting on park benches every Saturday morning. Wearing their black clerics and purple stoles, they have been offering counsel and, if desired, the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Guess what? Without fancy marketing and social media campaigns to advertise their presence, a growing number of souls have taken notice and have begun finding their way back to church. Apologetics is also on display with parishioners stepping out, evangelizing, and answering questions about their parish and the teachings of the Catholic Church. Through their efforts, these modern-day disciples are making Jesus present in a personal way.
Where will it lead? No one really knows. But God!
This week, may each of us try a different sort of evangelization. Let’s try sharing our relationship with Jesus with another person. Let’s tell someone what Jesus means in our life. Let’s tell someone about the the beauty of living in communion with the Catholic Church. But mostly, let’s tell someone that Jesus loves them.
At first, we might be nervous. But after a while, we’ll be surprised at the results. By doing so, we’ll know that the Holy Spirit is working through us to touch another person with God’s grace. And for eternity, we’ll have been God’s instrument in changing another person’s life—forever.
And Jesus, Peter, and all the saints will smile at us and say: “I knew you could do it.”