Jesus loves the poor. Today in class we read the story of Lazarus and the rich man from the Gospel of Luke. The rich man neglected the needs of Lazarus and his punishment was hell while Lazarus was in the bosom of Abraham. As happens fairly often, I find myself teaching my students, trying to drive home a point that I am simultaneously realizing I do not live by.
“Jesus is saying in no uncertain terms that helping the poor is necessary.”
The interior dialogue is one that my students cannot see and one that I wish was different.
“Trish, what have you done to help the poor?” Apart from a few isolated instances, I am loathe to say that I have done very little. I am quick to reassure myself that I am not that rich man, I would never be so calloused. But perhaps I am, in many ways. I am quick to reassure myself that some are called to embrace radical poverty. However, some are not, I remind myself. I think of unused clothes in my closet and then I think of those who go without many clothes at all. I think of the slight pain I feel on a day of voluntary fasting and then I remember the involuntary starvation of people around the globe.
I’m not going to lie, at times Pope Francis makes me uncomfortable. He is crashing into my world, he is kissing the feet of inmates, he is embracing the disabled, and it is disconcerting. Not because I dislike the imprisoned or the disabled. Rather it is because I find myself falling short of the Gospel message in many ways and I don’t like that truth.
The Gospel is radical. Some of my students are under the impression that everyone has heard the Gospel and that it isn’t something that is difficult. Yet there must be a reason that people grew angry with Christ and persecuted Him. They didn’t drive Him to the brow of the cliff because He told them that their lifestyle was perfectly acceptable. He challenged them. Today He still challenges us. The Bible is both a book of comfort and a book of seemingly impossible challenges. I am to be meek, humble, loving, sacrificial, trusting, repentant, merciful, poor in spirit, and so much more. I will be hated by all for the sake of His name and will be handed over to be killed. I will be given the words to speak at the proper moment and I will not defend myself against the accusations of others.
We are so quick to make the Bible a good story that Christianity is based around without realizing the radical implications for our own lives. In order to fully embrace Sacred Scripture I will need to accept the gift of transformative grace. I will not live on bread alone but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God. The Gospel is challenging and if what is being preached about the Word of God is not challenging us and calling us to change, then it is not the Gospel! If I read the Bible as it is meant to be read then I cannot be content to be complacent. I can never say that I have done all that I need. The message of the Gospel calls for continual conversion.
The story of the prodigal son fit in perfectly with the recent words of Pope Francis. I was telling my students about the beauty of the mercy of God as He is depicted in the father in the story of the prodigal son. The father doesn’t wait for the son to even reach home but races out to meet him. And he doesn’t wait to hear the son’s plea to simply be a servant but he gives him the best of everything out of gladness that his son is home. “The Lord never tires of forgiving, never! It is we who tire of asking his forgiveness.” All of Heaven rejoices when one repentant sinner returns home. Even as I am explaining this to my students, I am realizing in a deeper way the truth of this. God doesn’t forgive us begrudgingly. He doesn’t sigh when we approach the confessional, slightly irked that we have done again what we just promised we would strive to never do again. He isn’t like me. He doesn’t wonder how I could be so dense, how I could be so self-centered. Rather, He races to me with open arms and rejoices in my repenting. What a God! He calls us to be what He created us to be and yet when we fail, He calls us to return to Him and begin again.
I do not sacrifice enough for the poor. I do not love my students as I ought. I seek after acceptance and affirmation more than holiness. I fall into being judgmental when it isn’t my place. Yet God is calling me to overcome these failings with His grace and begin again. The Word of God is living and effective. It is cutting to the heart of the matter and revealing the truth of who we are and who God is. It is uncomfortable and disconcerting. But it is compelling and captivating. It rebukes, consoles, reassures, revitalizes, convicts, elevates, and embraces.
I hope my students are learning at least half as much as I am.
“Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” –St. Jerome