I was listening to a podcast recently, and the guy on there said this, which really stuck with me: “Sometimes, I think Jesus is sick of believers, when really, He wants more followers.”
Jeff Cavins, in his recent book “The Activated Disciple,” says something similar when he offers this observation:
“There’s a big difference” he says, “between being a fan of Jesus — and being a follower. There is a danger in simply being someone who may be ‘on fire,’ loves the faith, watches and listens to Catholic radio and tv, orders teaching CD’s and even has Catholic bumper stickers.” These are all VERY good things, of course — but “the danger,” he says “lies in the fact that you can, without knowing it, exchange a dynamic, daily relationship with Jesus with simply consuming the faith.”
I certainly see this tendency in my own heart, and I bet I’m not alone. I happen to really like what Jesus says and does. I am inspired by His example. When He says: “Love your enemies,” I am captivated by the beauty and the power of His words. When He says: “There’s no greater love than to die for your friends,” I feel a surge of desire to do the same. When He favors the lowly, the sick, the poor, the powerless, when he tells me: “Deny yourself, take up your Cross, and follow me” — there’s a deep and abiding sense that this is the way I should also live and act all the time.
But usually… I don’t actually do it. I still like Jesus — what he says and does — and I find joy in the idea of being a Christian. Rarely do I actually step up to the call of grace and IMITATE Jesus with all of my heart. Rarely do I love people the way they actually deserve to be loved… The way God loves us.
When it comes down to it, in so many ways, I am still only a “fan” of Jesus, just a “believer” — and not really truly… a follower. I want to be. And I hope I’m learning to follow Jesus more and more each day, but I’m still a very long way off.
All of these observations tie in well with what Jesus says in our gospel this weekend:
“This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”
What he is warning against is this: We might be really awesome fans of Jesus. We might even think a lot of the right things, say a lot of the right things… but our heart, our deepest inner core, our truest identity, our real desires — might still be very far from Him.
This is important for us to come face to face with. Because God is inviting us to something so much bigger, and so much more satisfying than simply agreeing with Christian beliefs and religious practices.
At some point or another, we need to decide:
Are we just going to be interested in Jesus? In God? In Religion? In Prayer and Spirituality? Are we going to settle for being superficially or culturally “Catholic?” Are we going to live our entire lives holding God at arm’s length?
Or… are we going to surrender ourselves and follow the Living God wherever He goes?
St. James, in our second reading today says it pointblank:
“Be doers of the word and not hearers only”
In other words: Be radical disciples, radical followers of the Lord — not just fans! Step up, rise to the immense challenge of Christ’s invitation, go on this adventure — this mission of doing God’s work! Because, as James goes on to say later in his letter:
“Faith, without works, is dead.”
Actively following Jesus — being a disciple of the Lord — refusing to settle to be just a hearer of the Word, but striving to become a do-er of the Word — THIS has to be the foundation of a Christian moral life.
But let’s pause right there.
Because I just said the “M” word — “MORALITY.”
I suspect that the second I start talking about morality — a very deeply embedded thought process starts churning away in just about everybody’s minds.
“Oh here goes Father again… giving us the RULES. Telling us all the fun stuff we can’t do… Why does he seem to ENJOY making me feel GUILTY.”
And to that, I respond with this:
Being a doer of the Word and not just a hearer is not first and foremost about anxiously following a bunch of rules. Christian morality is not about asking over and over: “What am I allowed to do? What’s forbidden? Where’s the line?… so I can get as close as I can!”
Maybe this will come as a shock to you, but Christian morality is NOT first and foremost about NOT SINNING. That would be a sad and unattractive way to go through life… simply avoiding things that are bad for us.
No — instead, the Good News is this: Christian morality is about saying YES to the stuff that will bring about your true, ultimate, lasting, HAPPINESS.
St. Augustine, whose feast day we celebrated just yesterday, had this to say: “Everyone wants to be happy. There is no one who will not agree with me on this almost before the words are out of my mouth.”
This changes the entire notion of morality, doesn’t it? Rather than having it all based on obligation, burdens, and guilt — Christian morality is ultimately about what makes the human person really truly happy!
Listen again to what our first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy says about the Law and the Commandments: “Hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, THAT YOU MAY LIVE.”
Do you hear that? Follow these commandments — heed these laws — that you may live! That you may FLOURISH!
Jesus says in another place: “I have come that you may have LIFE… and have it ABUNDANTLY.”
If somewhere along the line, you’ve been led to believe that being Christian is all about following a set of cold, systematic rules and not screwing up, then I’m really sorry. You were fed a false gospel.
Jesus came to save the screw-ups, to call the lost and broken, to fill us with His own LIFE through the sacraments — a fulfilling, truly meaningful life centered totally on God.
So it’s time to make a choice: Do we want to be happy?
Do we want to really come ALIVE?
Because that’s only possible in the Lord. He told us that He is the Way, the Truth…and the LIFE.
Jesus is giving you and me both the power and the freedom to say “YES” to goodness, YES to peace, and YES to life right now. He doesn’t want to control you or squish your desires. He wants you to freely desire to lead a good, moral life so that you may live.
So ask Him for that grace. Right here and now — turn your heart toward the Lord, draw near to Him and, for the first time or for the thousandth time, offer Him your entire life.
Tell Him point blank: “Jesus, I want to follow You. I don’t want to just pay You lip service. I don’t want to just settle for thinking and believing the right things….. I want to LIVE the right things! My heart is still full of so many evil things, but I want to choose life. I want to choose You, Lord!”
“I don’t want to just be a hearer of the Word — I want to be a doer!”