Not judges, but disciples

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Christians cannot approach Jesus’ teaching as something with which we may agree or disagree

Several priest friends in Arkansas, when poking fun at themselves for making a self-evident point, quote the fictional preacher who was fond of saying, “Jesus said, and I tend to agree …”

It’s a great line. As if a preacher could ever make himself the judge of Jesus’ teaching!

The line makes me laugh, but it also makes me think. I wonder if at times even we Christians approach the teaching of Jesus as something with which we may agree or disagree, as if it is simply one of many philosophies of life among which we may pick and choose as suits our sensibilities.

The current trend of giving equal weight to all ideas and opinions has a subtle but devastating effect on the Christian life, because it seduces us into thinking that there is no such thing as absolute truth. If we think there is no such thing as absolute truth, we will never truly believe that Jesus is Son of God and Savior of the world. In line with modern trends, we might judge certain Christian teachings to be admirable, acceptable, reasonable, or even appealing — but even a positive assessment of Jesus’ teaching is still a far cry from actually being his disciple.

Not a philosophy, but the Truth

The mission of God’s Son was not to teach a philosophy but to reveal the Truth so we might be saved. He himself is the Truth, the absolute Truth. He is God’s complete revelation of himself. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father,” he said to Philip. (John 14:9) And Paul wrote to the Colossians, “He is the image of the invisible God.” (Colossians 1:15) His teachings unveiled the truth, as did his mercy, his love, his healings, his challenges and his miracles. The revelation of truth in Jesus came to its climax in his complete outpouring of himself in his death, resurrection, ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit. He calls us to hear, believe and live the truth so we might understand and love him, so that through him we might gain the eternal life for which we are destined. We will never know ourselves unless we look at ourselves in the light of his truth.

I have a sneaking suspicion that if we were to scrutinize our knee-jerk opinions under the light of the Gospel, we would find some that do not “agree” with Jesus. Still we cling to such opinions, ignore the glaring discrepancy, consider our position superior, and leave honest self-examination to another day. It’s as if we are saying, “Jesus said, but I tend to disagree …” It’s unthinkable that a Christian would say such a thing, but perhaps we do just that, and more often than we would like to admit.

If we are Christian, we are not judges of Jesus but disciples of Jesus who accept him as the Truth who sheds light on every aspect of our lives. For the Christian, there can be no hidden corner of life that does not belong to Jesus, which we are not willing to hand over to him. There can be no opinion or idea that we are not willing to scrutinize — and change, if need be — in the light of the Gospel.

Surrendering ourselves to Jesus

There is no denying that it is not easy to be Jesus’ disciples, to understand all his teaching, and to die to ourselves as he calls us to do. Surrendering ourselves to him is a lifelong process, through which we are tried, stretched, molded and challenged. If we unwittingly set ourselves up as his judges by ignoring the truth he has revealed or allowing ourselves to disagree with him, we will never know him, and we will never find peace and fulfillment.

It seems to me that one of the most serious downfalls of modern culture is its lack of humility. Modern culture has set itself up as the only competent judge of all things, the underlying assumptions being: 1) that because we know scientifically more than we did in the past, we therefore know better; and 2) that matters of faith are somehow less “real” than scientific knowledge. We mistakenly presume that scientific knowledge gives us a kind of superiority. We are accustomed to being the judge: “Prove it.” “Convince me.” “I agree with that.” “I don’t agree with that.” Such expectations and judgments have their place, but not in our relationship with God. They might be nothing more than outward manifestations of inflated egos, pride, hard hearts and fear.

Faith in God demands the humble admission that we are neither gods, nor judges, nor ends in ourselves. Faith in God demands that we humbly surrender our lives to him who alone is truth. Faith in God demands that we assent to his way as the only way for which we were created. Faith in God calls not for convincing but for conversion.

Humility is the hoe that softens our hearts, so that God’s Word, God’s Truth, can take root in us. Humility is actually a facet of courage that enables us to hand over to God any opinions, ideas and behaviors which do not agree with the truth. We are all afraid of change, but the kind of change to which Jesus calls us never disappoints.

Read the Spanish version of this column.

Northwest Catholic - March 2018

Archbishop J. Peter Sartain

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