Even Jesus’s early disciples experienced the temptation of turning what would become Christianity into a club. At various points we read how some of the disciples argued among themselves about who was greater and jockeyed for the best position in the early Christian community. We also read in the Gospels how it was always the disciples, always the followers of Jesus who attempted to keep people away from Jesus. Whereas Jesus consistently welcomes children, the poor, sinners, and the ill, his followers seem to want to shield their Lord from the people who desperately press in to see, hear, and touch him.
There seems to be a perennial tendency to draw lines, categorize people, and label groups according to personal preferences and desires.
You are in.
You are out.
Simply because, “I say so.”
Yet, to treat Christianity like an exclusive club for which one needs to associate with the “right people” or do the “right thing” to become a member is to misunderstand the vocation to follow Christ.
But Jesus intervenes to remind his followers that being a Christian is not about belonging to an organization or being a “card-carrying member” of anything. Being a Christian is about what we do and how we live. In the same chapter of John’s Gospel where Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6) we also hear Jesus tell us that, “the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these” (John 14:12). The one who is the true follower of Christ is one who does the work that Jesus models for us by his life, preaching, healing, and loving.
This insight appears frequently elsewhere in the New Testament, as well. What makes a son good is not what he says to his father, but what he does after the fact by working in the fields (Mt 21:28-31). What makes a disciple loyal is not that she says “lord, lord” and professes faith with words, but that she does the will of God (Mt 7:21). What makes someone holy isn’t his well-planned life, but recognizing what is right and doing it (Jas 4:17).
To be Christian is to act in accord with the will of God after the example of Jesus Christ. Ultimately, one cannot determine for another whose side he or she is on. All God asks of us is that we recognize that following in the footprints of Jesus means recognizing the coming Reign of God and doing something about it.
This is an excerpt from Fr. Dan’s latest book, God is Not Fair and Other Reasons for Gratitude (Franciscan Media, 2016).