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May 21, 2017 - The Jesus Option

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Scripture Readings

There is a new book that is creating great controversy in Christian circles. It is written by Rod Dreher and entitled,The Benedict Option. The subtitle of the books says it all. It proposes a “Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation.” Dreher believes that our nation is no more a Christian nation but a post-Christian one. He believes that Christianity is entering a new Dark Age and that in our time and within our civilization we may live to see the death of Christianity. The main enemy of Christianity, according to him, is militant secularism which threatens to eliminate religion entirely. Dreher invites believers follow the model of the sixth-century monk St. Benedict, who, as the Roman Empire collapsed, withdrew from society and set up religious communities. Following the Benedict option, Dreher invites today’s Christians to withdraw from politics, move inward, and deepen, purify and preserve their faith. He also suggests that Christians secede from mainstream culture, pull their children from public school, put down roots in separate communities and find new and more radical ways to practice their faith. Even though I do not entirely buy Dreher’s main argument, I at least think that he is concerned about the right thing - the relevance and authenticity of Christianity for in our times. 

Dreher raises many interesting questions for us. I would like reflect with you on the relevance of our faith in Christ. I would like reflect on the power and influence that Jesus has on you and me. I would like to reflect on Christianity’s place in our society, especially, as you and I live it out in society. I am using today’s readings to do this. Three points:

1. Called to Proclaim the Gospel. Let me begin with today’s first reading. It describes a very active and outgoing early church that relies heavily on the Holy Spirit. We must remember that the early church had many challenges to face. First, Christ was no longer physically present among them. Second, the idea of a suffering and resurrected Christ sounded stupendously foolish to the philosophical Greeks and the powerful Romans alike. Third, the early church was a persecuted church. It was powerless and underground church. Yet, today’s first reading is an account of the growth of the church. Disciples like Phillip, Peter, and John did not withdraw from the world. They went out proclaimed the good news of Christ. They engaged the prevalent culture and transformed it over a period of time. The fact that the church continued to grow in spite of every attempt to thwart its growth, tells us that the Church responded to the demands of the time with courage and zeal. And here precisely is the place of reflection for us. You and I are Christians who find ourselves rooted in the politics and culture of our time. Dreher gives us important questions to grapple with. Who are you and I as Christians? When we meet the world and the world encounters us, what happens? How much power does the gospel have on us? How much influence does the prevalent culture have on us? Where do the gospel and culture meet in our lives? What does that interaction look like?

2. Sanctify Christ as Lord of Your Hearts. How can we engage the culture around it and transform it?As followers of Christ, how we can make sure the Christianity does not lose its relevance or become extinct in our nation? Perhaps today’s second reading has an answer. Peter says, “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear…” In the gospel and in the rest of the New Testament, Christianity always was a counter-cultural force. There are two ways to be counter-cultural. One way is to constantly point fingers at others, judge them, condemn them, preach a gospel of fear, doom and darkness, all this, as we believe that we have got all the answers. Peter suggests a very different strategy. First of all, he asks us to make sure that we are people of hope. As we encounter life, as we grapple with sin in our own lives and seek reconciliation, in the way we embrace the tragedies and blessings in our lives, in the way we respect, honor, and sometimes disagree with the people in our lives, in our attitude toward success and failure, in the place that wealth, dignity, and success has in our lives, in our religiosity and our spirituality - we must be a people of hope. Second, Peter suggests the way to communicate this hope. He says, do it gentleness and reverence. What this might look like, let me propose in my third point.

3. The Jesus Option. St. Benedict withdrew from society to form religious communities of monks. There is no doubt that these quiet, prayerful, and hard working monks influenced the culture of the Western world. In fact, they gifted the best wine, the best beers, the best cheeses, music, literature, and spirituality to the West. I do not want to minimize the power that enclosed contemplative religious communities have in the world today. However, beside the Benedict Option, I am also proposing, “The Jesus Option.” In his time, Jesus called his twelve disciples and went from town to town. He went about preaching the good news of God’s mercy and love. He ate and drank with tax-collectors and sinners and gave them hope. He brought people who lived on the fringes of society — the Samaritan woman, the adulterous woman, Zacchaeus, the lepers, the blind, the deaf and the lame — into the mainstream. He fed people when they were hungry, taught them when they sought meaning, brought healing and comfort to the suffering people, and most of all, made God accessible to all. Here is the practical implication of the Jesus Option. Peter says to us in today’s second reading, “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.” In our lives, we Christian disciples must bear witness to the Christ of the gospel. However, as Peter suggests, we must do with gentleness and reverence. This is the path of the growth that the early church followed. I believe this is the path we need to follow today.  

The Christ we encounter in this Eucharist is the same Jesus who came into the world and gave us hope. Let us take his good news to the world. Let us do so in gentleness and reverence

- Fr. Satish Joseph