"If I were to be a good Franciscan, that is, Christlike, I would first of all have to be in almost all points as this peasant appears to be. That is-to set no store on pride in knowledge, or possessions, or ambitions, but completely obscure looking and acting: and with all that not envious, not ambitious, but quiet and good, and giving people things, and being patient, and working and living on little food. But being, first nobody: this peasant, obscure and dark, and silent, and not knowing much how to talk: of such were Christ's Apostles.
~ Thomas Merton, Run to the Mountain, p. 10
These are Merton's reflections after coming across an Italian immigrant woodcutter living in the depths of New York City during the beginning of World War II. He notes that this is a man who "never says anything and never understands the crazy political fellows, and is humble and poor in Spirit too and loves God and prays to Him like a child (for we all should)." Run to the Mountain, p. 70.
I recently watched an interview with Shane Claiborne. Until recently I had never heard of Mr. Claiborne but now I am waiting with anticipation to get my hands on his books! If you aren't familiar with him I'd definitely suggest getting aquainted. One thing that struck me when I heard him speaking: wow this guy really walks the walk! He is genuine and fervent in faith and puts it into action, calling others to as well. He lives in an intentional community where whatever money is made is dispersed to those in the community as needed, the rest goes to the poor. In the interview I watched he stated that if one has two coats, they have one coat too many. That if one has two coats than that means there is one person in the world that is cold that wouldn't have to be if that person with two just surrendered their material belongings in the name of compassion and love. (I'm paraphrasing). That is so true! And so very Christ-like! Why aren't more of us Christians like that?
All of this makes me wonder about all the lucrative pastors and preachers worldwide that go through the circuits and travel, spreading the Word from shore to shore and beyond. Are they really living the message out that they preach? Are they really living it out by staying in lush hotel suites when down in the streets not too far away there are those who are huddling over trash cans with small fires burning, trying to keep warm, stomachs aching, hopes faltering? Are they living it out eating at five star restaurants while there are those whose cupboards are bare, children crying, parent's hearts breaking, as they have nothing to feed them?
Aren't we as Christians supposed to let our lights shine in the darkness? Aren't we supposed to bring the message of Christ, which is hope and love and life and light, to the hopeless and those that are wounded? One of my pet peeves is that many of these pastors preach all of these great things, but only to those that can afford a pricey ticket in order to get in to hear their message. The truth should be free! Not a means of lining one's pocket.
How does the Bible say we should go about following Christ, spreading His message?
23 Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Enough about all the pastors that are blatant hypocrites...what about us? Are we living for Christ making God and our desire to follow Him our ultimate goal? Are we willing to give up material comforts in order to help others ? Are we willing to also let go of internal discomforts with dealing with others we might think we don't have much in common with? Sometimes it's easy to talk about those in the world that need our help and about the social justice issues that us Christians are called to engage in to help spread compassion and love without really actually putting some of those ideas into action. Mother Teresa had something to say about this:
"It's very fashionable to talk about the poor but it's not as fashionable to talk to the poor." ~Mother Teresa
Let's not let talking be more fashionable than actually walking!
Merton, who likens the woodcutter's character to that of an apostle, notes that the woodcutter, "never says anything and never understands the crazy political fellows, and is humble and poor in Spirit too and loves God and prays to Him like a child." That makes me wonder, are we Christians sometimes so involved in the political process that we forget about the spiritual process? Are we so involved in polling and advocating for our favorite politician that we forget to advocate and speak in favor of our Savior? As verse 25 in Chapter 9 of Luke reminds us, "What does it profit a man if he gains the world and loses or forfeits his life?". Politics has its place but, it is my view, that our striving to get our politicians into office should never be above our striving to get our Lord into the hearts of man.
I have so much to write about this! But I will end it here. I feel we need to pray for ourselves and our other brothers and sisters in Christ. God in America and in other parts of this world is becoming less and less real for people, less and less tangible. Less and less approachable. And I think some of that is the fault of those who bear His cross...not on their shoulders, hunched over in sweat laboring up the hill of adversity in the soul hope of bringing God glory, but by pulling it on a wagon, taking breaks whenever they tire and occasinally abandoning it as they take their rest on benches along the way. Let's get off our benches! Let's rise up and take our cross and carry it wherever God wills us to. Let's have that simple obedient faith of the woodcutter that touched Merton so deeply.
Forgive us for sometimes putting our comfort first. For abandoning the true message of the gospel and what your disciples are called to be to pursue our own earthly ambitions. Forgive us for not approaching those who are different from us because it reminds us of all that we have and all that they don't. Help us overcome our guilt by asking for your forgiveness. Give us servant's hearts that are satisfied only by following your Will that you have for our lives. Help us rise above mediocrity of faith and take up the cross once again, with zeal, carrying your message and love and compassion with non-judgmental hearts to the weak, the weary, the hopeless-not just those that can buy a ticket. Help us be more like Jesus.
We love you, we praise you for all the blessings that you have given us and for your son Jesus, our precious redeemer who, by his blood, washed our guilt and sin away.
In Jesus' name,