The homily at mass yesterday addressed the “sin of omission,” those things that we fail to do, using Jesus’ story of Lazarus and the rich man as a starting point (Luke 16:19-25). He noted something I had failed to see in all the times I’ve read it: The rich man never directly addresses Lazarus, and even after death the rich man, in torment, still tries to dictate Lazarus’ actions.
The priest talked about continually failing to see the poor and marginalized as brother and sister, failing to treat them as part of ourselves and bearers of Christ’s image. I was not particularly impressed by his oratory skills but, thanks be to God, my heart heard past that and was convicted by his message. I may be able to wax eloquent about solidarity with the poor, but do I live it?
After mass two women approached me. One took my hand, her skin was soft and creased, her hair dimly blond and curled, “we were at the conference,” she said, “and wanted to thank you for what you offer.” I noted they did not use the past tense “offered,” as in what I said at the conference specifically, but the present “offer,” as in my life. It felt like both a compliment and a mystical command.
A friend standing beside me was abundantly amused, “a celebrity in our midst! We’ll have to work to keep your head from expanding,” he said. The conference being referenced was an event with Catholics on Call, a young adult ministry rooted in the Catholic Theological Seminary on the Southside of Chicago. I was invited to be one of three panelists responding to two different speakers about “emerging adulthood” and the relationship between this new young adult demographic and the church. I said what I think may have been some challenging things, more on that later perhaps.
This put me in mind of a dream I had in which I woke one day to find, to my great surprise and dismay, that I looked exactly like Jesus. People kept thinking I was him and I felt a tremendous and frightening responsibility to say and do what I believed he would say and do. People were looking to me to be like Christ and in the dream I thought, “Is this what it’s like to be a Christian?”
Here are just a few of the hard sayings that Jesus reportedly delivered to a crowd that had gathered about him:
“Give to all who ask of you and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
“If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
“Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” (From “the Sermon on the Mount,” Matthew 5-7)
“Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me…as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me…” (From “The Last Judgment” Matthew 25)
Is this what it means to be a Christian? Is it possible to embody such teaching? One more reference from the words of this odd, amazing man, “With man, this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” What a terrifying adventure this life can be if we let it.