There’s a lovely old story out of Copenhagen about the statue of Christ in the fairy-tale city’s Cathedral. Executed early in the 19th century by the renowned Danish sculptor, Bertel Thorvaldsen, it depicted a Christ of awesome power and regal presence. The sculptor boasted that he had created a statue of the most majestic person in human history.
When an old Cistercian monk was asked what he believed, he simply said: “I believe more and more in less and less.” I think the older we become and the more practised in following Christ, the more clearly the bare bones of our faith stand out. After half a century or more playing golf, the golfer’s technique becomes simple. He has developed an intuitive feel for how to stand, hold and swing the club. He doesn’t focus on all the details of fingers, thumb, grip, arms, shoulders etc. etc. etc.. He does it all naturally, like second nature.
“Can we sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory?” asked James and John of Jesus. “Can you drink the cup that I must drink…?” was Jesus’ response to his success-seeking disciples. To live is to taste the cup of inevitable pain and suffering. There’s no escaping it.
What is a Christian? Numerous saints, theologians and spiritual writers tell us that a Christian is a disciple of Jesus Christ. The gospels and the writings of the early Christians would suggest that discipleship is a state of being. Let’s unpack what’s involved in being an earnest and thoughtful disciple.
People are respected today because they are influential, because they are important or even useful. Who respects or cares for people who are not important? A young man who says he doesn’t believe in God happened to say to me recently that he supported churches because they represent and values that are good and healthy, like compassion. And compassion is a commodity that’s getting scarce.
It sometimes happens during the celebration of Mass that a young child begins to cry out. Glancing quickly and discreetly in the direction of the sound I’d spot the culprit, a two-year-old with well-developing vocal chords. More often than not the kid is on the pew between its parents, either in a portable baby carrier or just fidgeting and holding on. The child’s entreaties continue until Mom or Dad takes it up, holds it close and rubs its back. Then all is quiet again.
Several years ago while at a wedding reception I met a man who wanted to introduce me to his “amazing wife Tara” and his “incredible son Jason.” I’ve never seen him since then but I remember his over-use of adjectives.
“Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.”
The apostles had returned after their first mission by themselves and had gathered around Jesus for some debriefing. What a beautiful scene as they shared their various experiences with him. Having listened to everything they had to say, Jesus invited them to come away and rest awhile.
Jesus looked like the real ticket for a while, and for the few people he lifted out of their misery by his miracles, he was a godsend. In the end, he appeared to be a failure and a disappointment to his contemporaries. In our current world, he is a nobody. Unbelievers see our preoccupation with Jesus as “hocus-pocus,” sheer nonsense and a waste of time.
John the Baptizer is revered not only in Christianity but also in Islam, the Bahai’ faith and other religions. Why is he so important? I think the official answer to that is because he announced the One who would come after him. In that sense he was not a follower of Christ, but had more faith and trust than Jesus ever asked of his disciples.