We Have a Choice
For Sunday, April 23, 2017, Second Sunday of Easter
All of the happenings in our world have people very concerned and worried. Whether its chemical weaponry, suicide bombers, religious persecution, or just violence in general, people—especially those who possess some kind of faith—are wondering what is God doing about all of this? Asking where God is when we experience hurtful and frightening things is normal. It may appear at first that God is deaf to our concerns, lacking empathy for our fears and suffering. Depending upon where people are on their faith journey, this apparent absence of God can easily lead them into a doubt where they begin to question the existence of God altogether.
God gives us free will. What a wonderful gift it is! It is the only way we can choose to love God freely. With that freedom comes the choice to live in darkness or to live in light. Being brought to the light or being saved is something we have to freely choose. It is not forced upon us. The Acts of the Apostles reminds us of that: “And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (vs. 47). Thousands of people were witnessing the lives of the early Christians and seeing something they wanted, something enlightening and wonderful. They chose the same. What makes this choice so accessible to us is the realization that the early Christians were by no means perfect. They struggled with idiosyncrasies, sinfulness, selfishness, and weakness just as we do. However, they knew the importance of establishing the structure of social and economic life on the teachings of their Master.
Many in our world choose to live in darkness and sin. When we choose to make a mess and do evil things, God does not interrupt that choice. We are left to deal with the consequences. Sin always has social consequences and is never a private matter. The early church made a choice to live life a certain way: devoted to the teachings of the apostles, communal life, the breaking of bread, and to prayer. The results of that choice were inspirational, bringing many people to the faith who had never known Jesus. St. Peter reminds us of this in our second reading: “Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” In reality, those newly converted Christians did see Jesus: in the lives of his followers.
We have that choice. The world has that choice. It makes me wonder whether we ever really understood what Jesus said to his disciples when he entered the locked doors of the upper room: “Peace be with you.” Maybe we got it for a little while, and then something changed. The early church seemed to understand the idea but then we somehow put that aside and bought into a more “acceptable” brand of Christianity that tempered the radical call of Jesus’ original message. The seltzer lost its fizz! We moved Jesus from the streets to the sanctuaries and divided our loyalties between our faith and secular affairs. Now, this is where the challenge happens. Does the way you live your life ignite a fire of faith in the hearts of those who do not believe? I’m not sure mine does. I feel the tension between the secular and the sacred and get torn between my allegiances.
We have a choice. Peter tells us that “now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith … may prove to be for praise, glory. and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” We know that suffering is a part of our lives. And we know that people make really poor, hurtful, sinful choices that radically change lives. We live with mental illness, disease, and other disasters. Free will allows room for both brokenness and wholeness. In and through all of this, God still gives us a choice. We can use our gifts and talents to live as our faith suggests. Again, 1 Peter reminds us that “in his great mercy [God] gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” We have a living hope. Do we understand this? The early Christians did and persevered even in the midst of persecution. Their popularity did not sit well with many folks.
Doubt can be healthy. It does not need to end in despair. At times we find ourselves questioning and wondering if or how God is acting or whether God exists at all. As Thomas did, we have the community of believers that goes before us enlightening our way and sustaining us in our times of doubt. It is through the Eucharist that we deepen our relationship with God and with each other. It is here that we can be brought back to the truths of our faith and to the real Christ who lives again!
The authentic message and teaching of Jesus and the enthusiasm aroused in the early church somehow got truncated along the way. Christianity is not always credible these days and is not seen as a worthy or valuable investment. Think about that a little. For some folks, faith is simply about obtaining salvation and less about creating a peace-filled home here with our brothers and sisters. God gives us the freedom to do as we wish with his word and the choice whether to accept his peace.
Of course, all of this comes with a price. Jesus warned his disciples that they would be hated by the world. Why would we expect it to be any other way today? As broken human beings, we will always have to live with some measure of fear, division, and suffering—it’s part and parcel of living in a world built on a foundation of freedom. God is not only patient but merciful. Our psalm reminds us today: “His mercy endures forever.” No matter how many times people make wrong, misguided, or sinful, evil choices, God’s unconditional mercy is never withheld. We have a tough time accepting that. This Divine Mercy Sunday presents a perfect opportunity to give it some reflection.
Therefore, as much as we may want God to fix things, we must remember that God is saying something particularly important back to us. He reminds us through people who choose not to water down Jesus’ message and who choose to live the radical call of the Gospel. We are given the guidelines, gifts, and blessings in the example of his Son to find our way through the messes we and others create. In its purest form, Christianity makes an incredible amount of sense. “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
The problem is the depth of our faith and its focus. It is not necessarily the depth of our faith in the person of Jesus and our relationship with him that is of concern, but the depth of our faith in the social and economic implications of Jesus’ message. This is where we divide our allegiances. We believe, wrongly, that we can design a plan better than God’s for succeeding in our social and economic efforts. Jesus belongs in the marketplace. We have the beatitudes and so much more as a blueprint. Do we doubt his ability to organize how we conduct the business of our lives? The early Christians got it right.
Rev. Mark S. Suslenko
in whom mercy is endless
and the treasury of compassion inexhaustible,
look kindly upon us
and increase Your mercy in us,
that in difficult moments
we might not despair nor become despondent,
but with great confidence
submit ourselves to Your holy will,
which is Love and Mercy itself.
—Optional closing prayer of the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy, www.thedivinemercy.org.