Friday, September 20, 2013

Total Surrender or Why the Church is so Exclusive

“The Kingdom of God may be likened to a treasure buried in a field. And where a man discovers where it is buried he hides it again and for joy goes, sells all that he owns, and buys the field.” Matt. 13: 44-45

                Funny; whenever Jesus talks about “selling all that [we] own” we always assume He’s talking about material possessions.
                I think the biggest reason people leave the Church is because of this very reason: they don’t realize that “selling all that we own” means all that we own; it doesn’t just mean our possessions, it means our will, our talents, our hopes, our dreams, our families, our friends, and our country. In short, ‘all’ means everything. When we present ourselves before Jesus and ask to follow Him, there is nothing at all that we can reserve for ourselves; everything has to be up for grabs.
                In order to follow Jesus properly, to truly understand Him, He needs to be the center of our lives. And if He is the center of our lives, then He and He alone is non-negotiable.
                Whatever it is we cannot bear to be without is what is most important to us. If we were willing to deny or abandon Jesus for the sake of anything, than that thing, and not Jesus, is the center of our lives and we lie when we call ourselves Christians. I’m as romantic as the next guy (actually, I’m probably more romantic than the next guy), but if you honestly cannot live without your husband or wife or girlfriend or boyfriend, to the point that you would abandon your faith for their sakes, then something is wrong. That would mean that they, not Jesus, is the center of your life, and “he who loves his father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matt. 10: 37).
                Harsh, isn’t it? Yes, but it’s the only way that you can honestly be said to have a real relationship with Christ. Why is that? Well, remember that God is not just the supreme being, but He is Being itself; He is the source and summit of existence. Nothing exists except that He wills it to exist, and everything depends upon God for its existence.
                Jesus is God made manifest to men. Therefore, the relationship we must have with Jesus is the same relationship that all of existence has with God: total dependence. We need to align our will with reality, and the reality is that Jesus is the source and end of our existence. If our will is anything else, that is, if we prefer anything else to Jesus, then we are engaged in an illusion. And if we love a Jesus who is content to be secondary to something else in our lives, then I’m afraid we love something that doesn’t exist.
This isn’t because Jesus is jealous or petty, but because He knows that this is how things are. The relationship that Jesus has to us might be likened to the loving friend of a madman who is trying to recall him to reality. Some might say that it would be kinder to leave the man in his addled state, but the friend knows that the only way the man will truly be happy is if he can rejoin the real world.
In the same way, we have to follow Jesus as He actually is, not as we would like Him to be. If He tells us “leave this behind” it doesn’t do any good to say “I don’t see anything wrong with it!” Whether or not there is anything wrong with it is not the point; the point is that, whatever it may be, you have to be willing to abandon it for Christ’s sake. If you are not, then that means you care more for whatever that thing may be than for Jesus.
                Incidentally, it is this demand for total surrender that gives Christianity its reputation for exclusiveness. Yes, indeed the Kingdom of God is exclusive; Jesus is very clear on that subject. It is exclusive to people who actually want it, rather than just their own image of how it ought to be.
The Church is exclusive because reality is exclusive; it is what it is and you can either accept it or go mad. If someone says “I would like to enter the Church, but I can’t accept this particular teaching” then he can’t enter unless he relinquishes whatever is holding him back, just like the madman in my example can’t rejoin the world until he escapes his delusions. That isn’t the fault of the Church, which cannot be other than she is, but the fault of the man who prefers whatever it is to life in Christ.
There are two ways something can be inclusive. It can be inclusive by being open to all who are willing to enter it or by being open to all who want to enter it. And those are not the same thing. Virtually every overweight person in the country wants to get in shape; only a few are willing to. Many people want to be astronauts or famous writers or wealthy businessmen, but only some are willing to.
You see, ‘wanting’ to do something merely means that the desire to do it exists as a psychological reality in your brain. Being willing to do something means putting that desire into practice by taking the steps and making the sacrifices to make what you desire a reality. The man in Jesus’ parable could have easily said “I want this field with the treasure in it, and I know I ought to do something about it, but I just can’t afford it. Maybe next year I’ll have saved up enough…” and he would never have gotten that treasure.
Likewise, many people want to follow Jesus in the sense that they find His teachings attractive, they like the idea of Heaven, or they believe that He is who He says He is. But far fewer are willing to do so by laying all they have aside and actually making Him the center of their lives. It’s much easier to say “well, I think He just wants me to be nice to people” or “I think it’s more important that I love others than that I go to Church” or “I don’t think he cares what I do in my bedroom, provided I give to the poor” than to actually give our lives to Him. It’s much easier to go half-way; to make Jesus an ‘important’ part of our lives, but to keep Him at arm’s length.
It doesn’t work. Jesus will have all or nothing. He wants us to love others and to go to Church. He cares about our giving to the poor and what goes on in our bedroom. He wants your enter life to be centered around Him. He wants you to surrender everything.
And that’s precisely why I find people who demand that the Church, say, ordain women so obnoxious. There are no ‘rights’ in the Church; Jesus didn’t come to give us our rights, He came to save us from them. No one should be demanding anything from Jesus. He is the one who demands from us. We come to Him on His terms or not at all, and His terms are total and unconditional surrender. Things like that are as if the prodigal son came home and said “Father, I wish to beg your forgiveness, but only if you reimburse me for all the money I wasted.” Forgiving as the father was, I think he’d say “son, I think you need to spend a little more time feeding those pigs.”

"You are in no position to make demands!"
If we truly understand what Jesus has done for us and what He is offering us, then we won’t dare make any demands. We wouldn’t even consider getting upset that He doesn’t approve of our sex life, or that we can’t work in the same job anymore, or that we don’t get to perform a certain role in the Church. A drowning man doesn’t get to call out to his rescuers “sirs, I will come aboard, but only if I am given a suitable cabin!”
This doesn’t mean that this has to happen right away (trust me, it won’t). Jesus calls us how we are, and usually how we are is a very sorry state indeed. Typically, we’re in no position to totally surrender to Jesus when we first approach Him. The important thing isn’t that we become perfectly devoted to Jesus right away; it’s that we recognize that this is the end goal. This is what we are striving for. The important thing is that we understand what the score is. 
 But here’s the kicker: the man who sold all he had to buy that field didn’t lose everything. Instead, he became much richer than he had ever been, or would have ever been. So rich that he could buy back or replace everything he had sold. When he divested himself of everything he possessed, he knew that it wasn’t necessarily going to be for good; he was going to be able to get it back, or if not exactly what he had, then something better.
Just so, when we surrender everything to Jesus that doesn’t mean He’s going to just take it all and leave us to stew. Anything worthwhile He’ll give back, better than ever; anything unacceptable He’ll replace. That’s why I say the important thing is that we be willing to abandon everything apart from Jesus, because odds are we won’t have to. Just like Abraham had to prove his faith by being willing to sacrifice Isaac, but was stopped before he had to go through with it.
Jesus doesn’t mind us having temporal blessings. When Jairas pleaded for his daughter’s life, Jesus didn’t tell him that he shouldn’t care about whether his daughter is alive, but only about God’s will. Nor, when the blind men or the lepers sought cures did He dismiss them saying that they can be just as God-fearing as they are. He wants us to be happy, and He wants us to have blessings in this life. He just doesn’t want those blessings to take His place in our hearts. In short, He wants us to see things as they are.

Vive Christus Rex!

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