Change'll do you good: we need to cut loose the anchor of fear (and sometimes the serenity of religion) to be open to the transformation of becoming disciples of Jesus.
It makes some of us want to pull our loved ones a little closer, hold onto our belongings with more ferocity. How can we be expected to give up everything we have and know and love? Why can't we follow Jesus and remain right where we are and as we are? Why insist on such upheaval in a life reassuringly predictable? Why does the gospel demand these grand departures from the ordinary?
The gospel journey is a metaphor for that spiritually desirable movement called conversion. An encounter with Jesus Christ requires the transformation from the old person to the new creation. If we remain as we are, then it's not Jesus we've encountered, but merely religion. As an institution, religion tends to promote "blessed assurance as insurance" against the threat of condemnation. If we follow the rules, religion says, we are inoculated against failure and find salvation in doing more of the same. The religious impulse can lead curiously to stagnation, fixed as it is in the determination of immutable truths and values. Why change a thing if you've got heaven in the bag?
If our goal is to follow the rules, then we miss the greater opportunity to follow the Lord, who sometimes broke the rules of religion in order to satisfy the longings of heaven. To follow this Lord means a total shake-up of the worldview we've taken for granted. Following this Lord means being led along a road we have not traveled before and probably would not choose. We can't get where Jesus is taking us by working hard, by reasoning it out, by pulling out maps and plotting a course. We can only get where Jesus is going by permitting ourselves to be led into the unknown. It's a perilous idea, disorienting and frightening. That's why Jesus always says, "Do not be afraid," when he issues this invitation. He knows a bad case of the willies will be our first response.
FEAR CLAIMS OUR HEARTS WHEN WE CONTEMPLATE CHANGE, but change is necessary for life and growth. What does not change is inanimate--a bad state for a human being to be in. William James, the American philosopher and psychologist, proposed three steps to changing one's life: 1. Start immediately; 2. Do it flamboyantly; and 3. No exceptions. These instructions seem modeled on the response of Peter, James, John, and others to the invitation to discipleship. There's no going home and sleeping on the decision or making incremental tweaks to one's behavior. The call to conversion is not cosmetic; we can't just neaten up our lives and fluff a few moral pillows to make things presentable for company when the company in question is Jesus. Jesus doesn't want to sit in our parlors at all. He wants us to accompany him out on the open road, where comfort, security, and familiarity are left behind.
Don't be afraid? I'd say be very afraid. When Jesus tells Simon Peter, shortly after meeting him, to put out into deep water and lower the nets for a catch, it's an inconvenient and perhaps pointless request. The fishermen have been out all night, and there was no catch to be had. Yet Peter does it, and more fish are dragged up than two boats are capable of hauling in. When Peter sees the impossible become possible, he is captivated by two ideas at once: the holiness of Jesus and his own corresponding sinfulness. Peter has moved into the traditional realm of fear, where reality is no longer trustworthy. An hour ago he was a fisherman having a disappointing shift on the job. Now he recognizes that he's a sinner before one favored by God. There was a certain amount of security in being even an unsuccessful fisherman. There is no security at all standing in the presence of God and knowing who you are and what you've done.
But here's the thing that spun the heads of those fishermen, as it would later many others bound up in the knowledge of their weakness and limitations: There is much to fear standing in the presence of holiness, unless we are confident that the one we follow is a Lord of mercy. If we trust that, if we really believe that, we can leave fear behind. In fact, we can leave everything behind. When fear is no longer our anchor, we find ourselves amazingly free to move forward.
So these fishermen started out immediately, and the world changed flamboyantly for them. No longer did they sit and wait long hours for fish to swim into patient nets. Instead they got up every day and moved through miracles, heard words from heaven, and watched dry bones rise up into new life, just like the prophets of old predicted. They saw Jesus spread his gracious net of mercy as sinners, lepers, prostitutes, and foreigners jumped in.
But strangely the pillars of the community hung back. The religious authorities failed to be caught. In fact they condemned this joyful movement of the unclean into the arms of God's forgiveness. They glared at what Jesus called Good News and pronounced it bad and from the devil.
As the sinful, broken world swam toward Jesus, those full of religion didn't move. They refused to change the way they thought and lived. They wouldn't take one step on the gospel journey and remained secure in the salvation they had already purchased by their religious practices. No movement meant no transformation. They knew no fear because they risked nothing.
I ADMIT I AM NOT A BRAVE PERSON. WHEN CHANGE SWELLS around me, I fear it will swamp my little boat and me with it. Like many folks, I want to preserve my life--not surrender it to the challenge of transformation. When someone in my life tells me I am in the wrong and that my thinking or behaving needs to be made new, I leap heartily to my own defense with reasons, excuses, and justifications for who I am and how I think. If I have to choose between hearing the truth or maintaining the comfort of my self-delusions, truth will have to make a mighty good case for me to entertain its cause.
Yet I know too well what real disciples do: bring their boats to the shore, leave their nets, and walk off after Jesus, wherever the heck he's going this time. It means leaving certainty for uncertainty, the routine for the surprise, a fluffed pillow for the uncomfortable idea of nowhere to lay one's head. It's scary and threatening and mysterious to be a disciple. The road to religion, by comparison, is positively tranquil. Once you've got the rulebook in your hands, you know exactly what to do and what to expect. I like that idea, and I know I'm not the only one who does.
BUT I DON'T LIKE THE IDEA THAT THE DECISION TO ENJOY the stable consolations of religion assigns me to the camp of the sanctimonious ones who stay put when others, desperate to be transformed, swim toward Jesus. To be caught up in that current, to deliver myself up to a journey I cannot plan or even imagine, is life's greatest adventure and truest direction. If Jesus is the way, then movement is naturally part of the package. If I am to follow Jesus, then I must cut loose the anchor of fear that keeps me fixed to this spot and to this self.
By ALICE CAMILLE, author of Invitation to Catholicism (ACTA Publications) and co-writer of the homily service Prepare the Word (TrueQuest Communications).
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|Date:||Feb 1, 2007|
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