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Archive for Monday, September 5, 2005

Churches part of Christian mission

September 5, 2005

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In his recent letter, Mark Jakubauskas chastises area Christian church members for what he implies as extravagant millions spent on local church building projects, land acquisitions, and gymnasiums, etc. "while other area groups ministering to the poor and needy, struggle to provide necessities such as food and shelter."

The true, the devout followers of Jesus wouldn't do those things, according to his letter, nor would they "build playgrounds, retreats, classrooms, or enjoy a nice meal prepared in their new church kitchens." Presumably, Christ would have us give all comforts away and give the proceeds entirely to the poor in order to guarantee full stomachs and warm bodies.

Those are good points, given that much of what Christ exhorted us to do was to help the poor, needy and sick. But there is more to the church's mission. Christ didn't come just to save the poor, the hungry or the physically needy. As Archbishop Fulton Sheen said "Christ didn't come to be the Bread King."

You cite the story of the rich man: "Teacher, what must I do? Go sell everything you have, give it to the poor and follow Me." Jesus didn't say follow Me and we will only feed the poor and shelter them, as in some social activism noble in and of itself. When you express love for your family, you do so in many ways, not in just feeding them or giving them warm coats. Your family has important physical needs, obviously, but they have emotional and spiritual needs as well.

What does "follow Me" mean? I think that "follow Me" is about how much do you love Me, and, what are you willing to do? What am I called on to do? All the goods that we do can be expressions of "follow Me," but the real love that Jesus invites us to transcends all the earthly goods in which we participate. That transcendence isn't some abstraction, but a love which entirely permeates the here and now as well as in eternity.

The local churches sponsor and host LINK. Our local Heartland Medical is church-based. Numerous institutions, including the Salvation Army, exist today because of the influence of Christianity. It was the church that built the first hospitals, started the first universities, preserved ancient books and transcribed knowledge, cared for the poor, and yes, built churches; lots of churches, beautiful churches. Jesus likes churches. He asked us to build them (Mt 16: 13-18) for everybody. They belong to all Christians past, present and to come. They belong to Him.

I would wholeheartedly agree that if a Christian's primary focus were on bricks, buildings, property, private devotion, social activism, supplying food, shelter or health care, then, as Christians I think we would be failing to grasp the entire vision of "follow Me."

Since you quoted scripture, let me add another for you to read, John 12: 1-8. Mary bought expensive perfume and anointed Jesus' feet with the perfume. Upon witnessing this, Judas complained that the perfume was extravagant and that it could have been sold for 300 pieces of silver and then given to the poor. Jesus replied, "What Mary has done was good and why do you bother her, for the poor you will always have among you, but you will not always have Me." Was Judas' limited vision (care of physical needs) and his lack of love the eventual cause of his betrayal, despair and suicide?

Mary certainly gave a great deal to buy the perfume to demonstrate her love for Jesus. The schools, universities, hospitals and cathedrals are all examples of what many average, non-affluent Christians have given to show their love for Christ, as well as the charities for lepers, orphanages, unwed mothers and care for the hungry, the homeless and the dying. The church isn't a club for the affluent, but a sanctuary for the spiritually sick, the spiritually hungry and the spiritually needy and those longing for love. Everyone is invited to come.

Does Jesus ask us sell everything we have and give it to the poor in order to follow Him? Perhaps. It was certainly true of the rich man of whom Jesus spoke. But are there other earthly attachments, fixations and preoccupations, indicative of a selfishness that we need to give up in order to "follow Him"? Jesus invites us to a love that transcends this world. Jesus put the needed reform of our lives in the right perspective. Love God completely first and foremost, secondly, love our neighbor, in all of his needs, and lastly, we will find the expression of our true selves. Ultimately that is what being a Christian is about.

Dr. Pat Moriarty is a dentist in Lawrence.

Comments

Lepanto1571 8 years, 6 months ago

Well said Dr. Moriarity; a needed redress.

I could not have said it better myself. Imminently reasonable and solidly grounded in historic Christian reality. That may actually make some folks quite angry though.

To that I must say well done again.

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lunacydetector 8 years, 7 months ago

thank you for pointing out that guy's ignorance.

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yourworstnightmare 8 years, 7 months ago

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