Yesterday’s Gospel reading made me think. It enlightened me about a couple of “Bible Stories” I remember from childhood. And it shone a light on some things I have experienced. From the USCCB version:
|And the crowds asked John the Baptist, “What then should we do?”
|He said to them in reply, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.”
|Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?”
|He answered them, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.”
|Soldiers also asked him, “And what is it that we should do?” He told them, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.”
|Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah.
|John answered them all, saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire.
|His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
|Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people.
I listened and forgot to pay too much attention to the presented homily (which I think was probably quite good). I thought of the end of this gospel reading about wheat and chaff and fire. Fire is my deepest fear, going even beyond my hysteria with heights. So, needless to say, in my younger years, I would hear this verse with great fear and trepidation. My “faith” was one born out of fear — God was gonna get me if I misbehaved. I was definitely afraid of being the chaff.
How many people are caught at that point? Before I could welcome the idea that God would clear away the brush and open space up so that life could be good and happy, I had to first understand that God/Jesus/Spirit loves me just as I am. Right now. With the chaff mixed in, with all that stuff that is available for composting. I had to be transformed in some way to even welcome parts of the Gospel and how it might affect me. I know so many folks who are stuck at “If I just ‘do it right’ I’ll be ok.” Life is a list with actions to be checked off.
I thank God for the people who could finally break through to me and help me to allow myself to be loved before proceeding.
When we put out that way of thinking that indicates that one is judged for actions alone, how many people do we miss? We come across as very judgemental. We proscribe how someone else must live in response to God’s love, often without even sharing God’s love or acknowledging it as the core of our faith. I propose that for those “outside” the circle a Christian should only proclaim that “God loves you! I love you!” and this means just the way you are. Only after a person has taken the step into that circle of love do they need to be presented with the actions that one might take. As best I can tell from the Gospels, Jesus didn’t walk around hollering at folks to repent or else. If someone came to him he listened to the person and proceeded from where that person was. The woman at the well, Zacchaeus in the tree, the woman caught in adultery (what about her partner? that’s for another day), lepers, beggars, etc: they sought Jesus out. Even if he offered a call, it was “Follow me” without the “or the Devil’s gonna get you.”
I’m not sure how this translates to homilies and Joe and Josie in the pew. That’s where a bit of secrecy might come in. Way back with movements within the Church (Charismatic prayer, Cursillo, etc) there was a bit of secrecy. But, people were drawn in by the results they saw in others and wanted to know how that happened. They didn’t know the rituals or the “secrets” of a Charismatic prayer meeting or a Cursillo 3-day weekend. But, the results of the metanoia that had occured shouted volumes without words. Only after this encounter would one be open to understanding why go to mass every Sunday or go for Reconciliation or do all those other actions. Those things can be so binding and onerous when only understood from the outside. So, maybe those actions need to be a bit hidden — a bit secret.