Honestly, I used to have a saying, ‘Under the Roman Empire, the Christians were persecuted for their faith; now, since the Empire is no more, we have the Church to do the job.’
That’s how it sometimes feels. But there are other times when we have found ourselves in a perfect moment in the Church’s history, when pastors and people were full of love, respect, evangelical zeal, self-sacrifice, love for the lost, generosity for the needy. Those moments we wished would last forever, but they didn’t last long. Whose fault was that? Did the Church change, or did we? It is with the eyes of the Spirit that we look upon the Church with faith and declare to our souls, ‘This is the Body of Christ,’ and at other times, after ‘placing us on a peak impregnable’ the Spirit ‘turns away His eyes, and we are terrified’ (Psalm 30).
But without a doubt, the follower of Jesus knows who is speaking when he hears the preacher’s words, whether it is the Good Shepherd he is hearing, or just the hired man. And without a doubt, the disciple of Christ knows what is happening when he sees the Church’s works, whether it is the making disciples of all nations, or just lavishing itself in applause. It is then that the believer is tested: In Whom has he believed? In whom has he trusted? For whom does he live, in whom does he move and have his being? And finally, is it for what, or for whom, that he lays down his life?
We see around us the field white for harvest, yet stand our ground pulling up tares. We do the work reserved for the angels at time’s end, and let lie acres of dry bones waiting to be clothed in flesh, and live. There is only one Bridegroom, and only one Bride, yet we wander through the harems of our minds seeking under which veil she hides, and fail to see she is happily unveiled and seated beside her Lord. There is nothing to do now but plant the seed, because as soon planted, it springs up into the reaper’s hand, by the Lord of the harvest who alone gives increase. We have nothing else to do.
‘Come, labor on, claim the high calling angels cannot share.’
The people among whom Christ appeared continue, as Pascal writes, to deny Him, and for our sakes, otherwise they would be suspect witnesses, owning both the Kingdom and the King, that we might be slaves only, and not sons as they. And so they persist, and wisdom has still not abandoned them, for they guard and treasure her words. Their rabbi Tarfon says, ‘The day is short, the work is abundant, the workers are sluggish, the reward is great, and the Master of the house presses.’ He would also say, ‘It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it.’
For me there is no male or female, Greek or barbarian, freeman or slave, catholic or protestant, priest or layman, sophisticate or simple, rich or poor, black or white, straight or gay, friend or enemy, in short, no pairing of opposites to adulate one and outcaste the other, that is, if I am a follower of Jesus, who defended even those whom He knew to be unworthy, by human standards, of mercy and love. Every foundation of judgment has been shattered and scattered to make way for the only foundation that can be and has ever been laid: Jesus Christ, in whom there is no variation, no shadow of change, whose love is infinite, whose mercy boundless, who raises to life all the dead, yes, who raises even me.