The Word Embodied
Not Conforming to the Age
You are not judging by God's standards. (Corinthians 5:12)
Our desire for equilibrium fools us. Smooth sailing and steady stability, we suppose, should be the by-products of faith. That’s why we often secretly hope to experience a baptism in the Spirit to end all baptisms or a mighty conversion that solves everything once and for all. But like Jeremiah, we soon enough find out that the calling of God is not the beginning of tranquility.
“You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped; you were too strong for me, and you triumphed.” Jeremiah would live to be mocked, laughed at, derided. Eventually, he told God he’d had enough. To no avail. “It is like a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.” The gift of prophecy required a life of resistance.
So it is with discipleship according to Paul. “Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may judge what is God’s will.”
Even Peter had a hard time accepting the cost of discipleship. Within moments of his confirmation as leader, he is protesting the struggle, the pain, the failure, and the rejection that Jesus foretells. “May you be spared, Master. God forbid that any such thing ever happen to you.” But Jesus rebukes Peter: “Get out of my sight, you satan! You are trying to make me trip and fall. You are not judging by God’s standards, but by human ones.”
Following Christ costs the follower. What must be paid is a willingness to let go of our hunger for security, approval, and comfort; to take up our own cross of love and give ourselves away, to abandon our images of success and schemes of self-indulgence.
The lure of holiness, as Jeremiah found out to his discomfort, provides no warm blanket. Love’s love is no crutch, as some critics of religion have imagined. No, it is a harrowing experience, something like a death. Only radical insecurity remains when we entrust all to God, especially our disappointments and failure.
We live in an age when, by all cultural accounts, our faith is foolish. Our ritual is weirdly transcendent. Our vows appear to be unkeepable promises, our sacraments quaint. The practices we aspire to are held in high suspicion.
It is impossible, we are told, for people to be chaste. It is idiotic not to choose what pleases or fulfills us. This cultural skepticism is so deep in our own bones that we, like Peter, balk before the truth Christ proposes.
How often do our church, our preaching, our practice, merely ape the culture’s love of money, power, and privilege? The way of faith reaches too high; its paths are too arduous.
Yet in daunting times, let us recall Peter, who himself endured the same. Peter does “get behind” Jesus but does not give up because of his failure. He follows to Jerusalem, even though he fears. He follows to Gethsemane, even though he sleeps there. He follows to the Passion, even though he hides. He waits for Christ in the upper room, even though he is shamed by his betrayals.
May the church Peter once led, despite all its harrowing trials, have faith to do the same.
John Kavanaugh, SJ
Father Kavanaugh was a professor of Philosophy at St. Louis University in St. Louis. He reached many people during his lifetime.
**From Saint Louis University