Jesus compared “this generation” to children who could not be satisfied. For when the flute was played for them they did not dance, when the dirge was played they did not mourn. There was no pleasing them no matter what. Jesus drew the parallel to the present bystanders who acted as fickle as the children. They criticized John as being possessed for practicing fasting and asceticism. They then criticized Jesus as a glutton and a drunkard for his table fellowship with all who were willing.
In today’s Gospel account, Jesus could have been addressing his detractors as well as his disciples. He encouraged his followers to be wary not to wallow in the mud of fickleness, but also to be clear that their preaching and teaching was to be based on being a dispenser of his truth and the will of his Father and not the reaction of the people, for “wisdom is vindicated by her works” (Mt 11:19). Just as Jesus taught that false prophets would be revealed over time by their fruits (cf. Mt 7:16), so those who were true to his teachings would be vindicated, if not fully in this life, certainly then in the next.
Pope Francis said that “The first thing for a disciple is to be with the Master, to listen to him and learn from him” (Francis 2014, 15). May we pray for open hearts and minds eager and willing to hear the word of Jesus our Master and the courage to act upon his leading in our everyday circumstances. To do so, we must first slow down our pace and quiet our minds sufficiently enough so that we can even hear his word. We also need to discern the difference between his voice, our own, and the many other distractions, diversions, and temptations we hear. God himself speaks to us in so many ways; directly in the silence of the heart, through others, spiritual direction, small groups, fellowship, through the Bible, as well as our culture, and influences, as well as through his creation.
More often than not, we may not definitively know if what we hear and how we are being moved is coming from God. Yet, remaining paralyzed and doing nothing is not an option. We can find support and confirmation from Scripture and Tradition, others who are wise and practiced in following God, then we can reassess our guidance and then act. If we are wrong, we learn from our mistakes and begin again. If we are on the mark, this helps us to build our confidence in recognizing God’s voice. What we do not want to do is remain indecisive out of fear or anxiety, from the perceived reaction that will come. Nor do we want to remain indifferent to action.
Another important step in discipleship is that we are not to seek to impress, but to express. Adulation and acclaim for ourselves are not what we are about. Our firm intent is to become less so that Christ becomes more. We are also to resist moralizing and condemning others while instead be willing to meet people where they are, accompany and break open the word in practical ways so they see the benefits of having God in their lives. The invitation and life of a disciple of Jesus is not an easy one. Will we follow?
We need not be afraid that we don’t have what it takes, because we don’t at the start. Just as in learning to walk, our beginning attempts more often than not ended with a thud and us sitting on the floor or ground looking up. Yet, we got up, and with continued practice, we gained strength, balance, made corrections, and so began to gain confidence and the ability to move forward upright, step by wobbly step. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it more eloquently when he spoke to students at Spelman College in April of 1960. “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” So it is in anything we do, but especially in the spiritual life. If we are not moving ahead we are falling behind.
Jesus, please help us to know you and your voice so we may follow the will of God. Grant us the courage to walk with you, that we may risk whatever the reaction of others may be as we offer your truth with love and mercy. Set a spark in our soul so that above all we begin, one step at a time, hand in hand with you to serve those you bring to us. Help us move forward and allow God to happen in our interactions with one another.
Photo: Day of installation as Lector with my classmates Pete and Hank. During the service we were told: “Take this book of holy Scripture and be faithful in handing on the word of God, so that it may grow strong in the hearts of his people.” – from the Rites, Volume Two.
Francis, Pope. The Church of Mercy: A Vision for the Church. Chicago: Loyola Press, 2014.