Monday, July 11, 2016

A Disciple Has A Face

Recently, I've been slowly reading through the Gospel of St. Mark.  The Sixth Chapter of St. Mark begins with Jesus being rejected. In the next breath, he sends out the Twelve and prepares them for rejection. Immediately after that, we hear that John the Baptist was executed by King Herod. Being rejected seems to be a common theme in this chapter!  And we should be hesitant to make such rejection sound too glorious or romantic.  John the Baptist was rotting in a dark cell and had his head chopped off. Suffering for the truth usually doesn't appear--at the time--to be a successful strategy.  It usually appears to be a total failure.  One need only look to Jesus' own example. When he was tossed out of his hometown, driven out of various villages, arrested, beaten, and ultimately crucified, nobody was thinking that Jesus was a success story.

There is a tension that exists in the Church today.  There are those who salivate at the thought of fighting with the predominant culture. Basically, they feel as though if they are offending everybody, then they are a good Christian. Unfortunately, like any group on the fringe, they often become the face of the Church. Their anger and self-righteousness often make it more difficult for the truth of the Gospel to be heard by others.

Unfortunately, an ecclesial response to this fringe group is to go in the absolute other direction. This is where the Church hides the light of the Gospel under a bushel basket.  Instead of joyfully proclaiming the full truth of the Gospel--including those aspects of the Gospel that touch upon sensitive, hot-button issues--the Church hides. To avoid being associated with those who are angry and self-righteous, many in the Church fall silent. They hear the noise of Herod's party--all the laughs and buffoonery--and decide that it would be a real downer to preach the truth. It's too late to do anything about it. Best just to keep quiet and go along with it. After all, do we really want to be known as the people who ruin a good party?  

The bushel basket often takes the form of a language that is so bureaucratic and obfuscated, that if the Gospel is actually contained within it, it is so well-hidden that nobody could ever locate it. It becomes the Gospel of subordinate clauses. Everyone was clear why John the Baptist was in prison. It wasn't ambiguous. The Gospel is not ambiguous. Even when the issues we face are complicated, the beauty of the Gospel is that it is light. It makes things clearer. It doesn't make things less comprehensible. 

Many in the Church think the only alternative to being vicious and harsh is to be silent or to speak in such an obfuscated manner that nobody will have any idea what you are saying. But, this is not the Christian method. Somehow, Jesus and his first disciples were able to speak clearly and with charity. They were able to speak about sin, marriage, adultery, anger, fornication, the poor, prostitutes, tax collectors, the sick, and so on, with clarity and with interior peace and joy.  Now, to be clear, this doesn't mean that it was always well-received. They suffered and died for what they preached. Following the Master, the disciples appeared to be total failures. This is what disciples do. They follow the Master. The Mystery of Christianity is that we follow Christ--in His apparent failure. We follow Him to the Cross. We actually claim that our only hope is in that Cross. We trust that we who follow Him to the Cross will also share in His Resurrection. 

We who are disciples of Christ are right to avoid being associated with the twisted and angry faces that are so often a caricature of the Christian. That is not the face of Christianity.  We, however, must not allow ourselves to become no face at all. We must avoid the trap of becoming a nebulous and ambiguous conglomeration of meaningless words.  We need to rediscover once again the beauty of the Gospel and allow it's light and its clarity to illuminate the world around us. Those who wear the face of anger and bitterness are not the face of the Church. But, those who wear the face of nothingness are also not the face of the Church. The face of the Church is the face of Jesus Christ. It is a face that speaks the truth in love. It is a face that was rejected and which is still rejected today. But, when we allow this face to become our face; when we allow ourselves to be faithful to Christ and His Gospel and to suffer rejection, it is then that the Gospel is most eloquently preached and most likely to be received. We must place our faith in the Gospel. It is light and this light enlightens and warms.

The true disciple has a face. It is the face of the Master.

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