Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves;
Jesus appears to have intended to send us out to be his disciples in a world that would be hostile to his message. He seems to have known that the cost of being his disciple would be great. And, it is clear that he is asking us to remain faithful in the midst of opposition and hatred - shrewd but simple sheep among wolves.
Though there are many inspiring disciples of Jesus today all around the world, paying an incredible price for their lives of constant fidelity, a good number of us are not very counter cultural at all. It may seem surprising to look at it this way, but if we are not experiencing any opposition to the way we are living our following of Jesus, these words of Jesus offer us an opportunity to examine our way of life.
Jesus wasn't talking about the kind of opposition that comes from my being a difficult person or the opposition that comes to me when I'm selfish or when I let people down. He certainly wasn't talking about the opposition that will inevitably come if I try to be judgmental or self-righteous or if I try to divide a faith community. This type of turmoil can often result from my thinking or intending to act in Jesus' name or when I think or intend to be on a mission to "reform" my brothers and sister. But, this isn't what Jesus is talking about.
Jesus sends us into the world, the culture around us, which he knows is quite opposed to the Gospel of God's merciful and self-sacrificing love in Jesus. We are called to be in dialogue with a culture, to understand its struggles and its answers, and to evangelize - to Gospel - the world around us. The trouble is that we have so many deep instincts and drives that lead us to simply identify with the world that is hostile to the Gospel. We tend to fit in, blend in, to be transformed by the world. In the many obvious and subtle ways this happens, we also tend to lose perspective and to become more and more unaware of the Gospel and our call. When we read Jesus' words, "Don't judge and you won't be judged," we can easily say to ourselves, "I don't think he really meant that." When we hear him say, "Love your enemies. Turn the other cheek," we can respond, "Well, I don't think that's very realistic today." When Jesus says, "It is hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven," we can respond, "Well, I'm not really rich. There are many people richer than me. I don't see any tension between my faith and what I have. And, you know, Jesus wasn't right about everything." And when the Church or our bishops call us to a more authentic living of the Gospel, when it comes to challenging an unjust war or the death penalty or to support comprehensive immigration reform, or an over all consistent ethic of life, we can too often ignore them, or worse, say, "The pope and these bishops ought to stick with church matters. They ought to reform themselves before they start preaching to me. Besides, they are out of touch with political and business realities today and with what is simply normal today." And, we can all think of many more examples where the Gospel gets "softened" or "relativized" by who we have become in our society. Wolves in sheep's clothing have seduced us.
What can we do, if any of this strikes a chord in our hearts? We can ask for the graces of conversion, courage, and trust in Jesus' promise to be with us. We can examine what we fail to do. We can listen to the Gospel with ears alert to how it addressed our discipleship. And, we can ask for the grace to enter more deeply into Jesus' words: "If you try to save your life, you will lose it. But, if you lose your life - let go of it, think of others' needs first, be a witness in the world for the sake of the Gospel - you will really find yourself."
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