Summary: Doing what we should do can bring us joy, but we must still do it even if it leaves us dry.
Thursday in Pentecost Week 2016
Joy of the Gospel
There are still some pundits and preachers out in the hinterland who insist that Jesus was just a great man, a great philosopher of love, that fire and brimstone have no place in religion, and that everyone goes to heaven. I suppose they ripped today’s scriptures out of their bibles and burned them, because there is a very definite moralizing coming from St. James and from the lips of Jesus here. There is good, and there is evil, and we really ought to avoid the latter and embrace the former. Anything that keeps us from the good should be not just avoided, but cut out. That can cause pain. I think of my dad, many decades ago, having a heart attack and giving up smoking. That was painful, but the heart pain was worse. I suppose the farmer thought he had a good reason for cutting the wages of his laborers at harvest time. Maybe they didn’t clean up the scythes to his satisfaction. James has a great line for this chemist: “your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you.” The fellow in question was trying to pay his bills with fake gold and silver. The real metals don’t oxidize in normal wear. He was gold and silver plating iron coins and palming them off as the real thing. An early version of Ponzi or Abramoff. In the end, this kind of self-centeredness is self-defeating. Because we are made for relationship with others, especially for relationship with God, and when we cheat others or lie to them, it’s like cutting off our own arm or leg.
The Holy Father continues with his commentary on growing in love for others and in our mission of evangelization: ‘The word of God also invites us to recognise that we are a people: “Once you were no people but now you are God’s people” (1 Pet 2:10). To be evangelizers of souls, we need to develop a spiritual taste for being close to people’s lives and to discover that this is itself a source of greater joy. Mission is at once a passion for Jesus and a passion for his people. When we stand before Jesus crucified, we see the depth of his love which exalts and sustains us, but at the same time, unless we are blind, we begin to realize that Jesus’ gaze, burning with love, expands to embrace all his people. We realize once more that he wants to make use of us to draw closer to his beloved people. He takes us from the midst of his people and he sends us to his people; without this sense of belonging we cannot understand our deepest identity.
‘Jesus himself is the model of this method of evangelization which brings us to the very heart of his people. How good it is for us to contemplate the closeness which he shows to everyone! If he speaks to someone, he looks into their eyes with deep love and concern: “Jesus, looking upon him, loved him” (Mk 10:21). We see how accessible he is, as he draws near the blind man (cf. Mk 10:46-52) and eats and drinks with sinners (cf. Mk 2:16) without worrying about being thought a glutton and a drunkard himself (cf. Mt 11:19). We see his sensitivity in allowing a sinful woman to anoint his feet (cf. Lk 7:36-50) and in receiving Nicodemus by night (cf. Jn 3:1-15). Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is nothing else than the culmination of the way he lived his entire life. Moved by his example, we want to enter fully into the fabric of society, sharing the lives of all, listening to their concerns, helping them materially and spiritually in their needs, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep; arm in arm with others, we are committed to building a new world. But we do so not from a sense of obligation, not as a burdensome duty, but as the result of a personal decision which brings us joy and gives meaning to our lives.’
I would go one step further and suggest that we do good both from a sense of obligation and as a result of daily personal decision. Sometimes our obligations, when fulfilled, just leave us tired, and without a sense of joy. That’s OK. I take out the garbage and feel no joy from doing that. I do a lot of things that simply keep things going. It’s alright to fulfill our commitments and vows without immediately feeling good about it. There’s good evidence that Mother Teresa got no sense of personal fulfillment from her good work for decades. But she kept right on doing it anyway, because she had made a vow and was doing her duty. That, too, is the path to sainthood.