The Lord is the goal of human history, the focal point of the longings of history and of civilization, the center of the human race, the joy of every heart and the answer to all its yearnings. (Gaudium et Spes, 45)
Christianity makes shockingly bold claims. It does this because Christ made bold claims. If the Gospel message that you have heard doesn’t ruffle feathers or irk people, then it isn’t the same Gospel that Jesus Christ proclaimed.
Think about how people responded to Jesus Christ. Numerous times we hear about Jesus being driven to the brow of the cliff, or people picking up stones as He spoke, or people simply becoming angry at His words. This wasn’t because He told people that they just needed to be nice people. His words challenged. His words provoked. His words called people to look inside themselves and to realize that they could not save themselves.
Though we may accept the Gospel and profess to believe it, if we are honest with ourselves, each must continue to wrestle with the call of Jesus in our lives. There are still teachings of Jesus that have yet to be fully accepted in our hearts.
And there are bound to be things in his teachings that each of us finds offensive if we look at the totality of those teachings rather than confining ourselves to comfortable and familiar ones. (The Pocket Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p. 60)
For example, Jesus tells us that we are to forgive. The love of Christ compels us to love and forgive all. That means the survivors of the Holocaust are to forgive the very people who imprisoned them and took the lives of their friends and family members. It means the families of those who died in 9/11 are to forgive those who applauded themselves for being the masterminds of the attack. No, neither of those situations have impacted me in a directly personal way. But it is the message of Jesus Christ and it is not a message meant simply for forgiving the person who cut you off in traffic or the store clerk who is annoyed that you need her assistance. The Gospel message is precisely for those moments that seem unforgivable. It is then that we can recognize that it must be Christ working through us, that grace must be received in order to live out this bold life.
Christianity is not calling us to a life of ease and comfort. The King of this kingdom was crucified and the Queen watched it all unfold. Christianity, in its truest sense, is calling us to such a death. But it is a death that must be experienced so that we may embrace a fullness of new life. Once we experience that death and new life, the next death doesn’t really matter anymore. It will be a mere parting of the veil, a stepping into the throne room of the King, entering into the Holy of Holies. From life we will pass into Life.
With such a reward, it is no wonder that the early Christians were willing to lay down their lives for the sake of Jesus Christ. They looked upon death with no fear, but rather with joyful anticipation. Because, in that moment, they recognized that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was for those particularly difficult times.
We cannot accuse Christ of shielding the disciples or us from the realities of what following Him would require. He is direct and His voice is clear: if we love anything above Him, we will need to re-order our heart, even if the beloved is our family or our own selves. For Christ, we give all up and we received it back one hundred fold. I do not claim to have perfected this, but I know there is a tremendous freedom that is found in giving all to Christ. When my sisters entered the convent, the bitterness I felt was a result of not letting them go or surrendering them to the Lord. I’m a slow learner and so years later, when I actually began to sincerely let them go, I felt a tremendous freedom in my relationships with them. Problems may still arise in my heart regarding my sisters’ vocations, but I think God’s grace has pretty much vanquished that demon as of this past summer: but it took me eleven years. That freedom, though, is tremendous.
The Lord seeks to answer the deepest longings of our hearts. He boldly declares that He not only has the answer but that He is the answer. The fulfillment of all our desires is Him. The longings we experience are for relationship with Him. The joy we yearn to have fill our hearts is found in none other than He who fashioned our hearts. It isn’t Titanic-style love. It is rugged cross, pierced with beauty and sacrifice, blood pouring out that transforms hearts of stone to hearts of flesh-style love. And it asks for a great price. It asks for all we have. The return, though, is worth the investment.
Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30)