A few summers ago, I was traveling into the city by train, and I picked
up a magazine from the seat next to me. It was folded open to a section
of job descriptions, and one of them ran something liked this: “The
successful applicant will be a dynamic, smart, take-charge individual
who is talented, experienced, and able to bring an innovative perspective
to management. Candidates must be creative thinkers possessing independent
judgment and leadership, outstanding relationship-building skills, analytical
ability, and the vision required to challenge employees and drive growth.”
I remember thinking, “These people must think God is looking
for a job!” I mean, really, who else could fit all those requirements?
But someone had circled this description in red. Someone looked at
those words, all those high expectations, those skills and gifts, and
said, “That’s me! I’m dynamic, smart, take-charge, talented,
experienced, innovative, and creative! I’m an outstanding, analytical,
Of course, this talented, intelligent, visionary, up-and-coming go-getter
had left the magazine on the train, so how bright could he have been?
Today we hear the job description for a Christian, written by Christ
and handed on by Paul: Love is patient, love is kind, it is not pompous,
inflated, rude, quick-tempered; it does not rejoice over wrongdoing; it
bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
That is the job description of a Christian. And none of us are qualified
for the position. None of us have the résumé for this job.
If we were flipping though the classified section of the newspaper, or
checking out the job board at work, and we saw this job description -
“Applicant must be patient, kind, not jealous, not rude” -
well, if we are honest, we would turn the page or keep on walking. Who
among us would circle this ad in the paper, or take the flier off the
bulletin board, and say, “Finally, a job which is tailor-made for
Paul is saying, “Listen to what Christ expects you to be, and
recognize that you cannot do it. You have no hope of getting this job,
and no hope of keeping it if you did. Are you patient? Are you free from
envy? Are you never happy when someone fails? Do you have what it takes
to endure all things?” Paul asks these impossible questions so that
we will realize that we cannot be disciples, we cannot follow Christ,
we cannot do any of the things Christ expects. We do not have what it
takes - by ourselves. On our own, all we have are false hopes, failure,
and sin. On our own, all of our good intentions come to nothing.
What is Paul’s answer? The position has been filled. The good
news of the Gospel is that what we cannot do, God has already done in
Christ. We do not fit the job description, so God became man and through
his birth, teaching, and miracles, he does what we cannot; through his
care for the sick and the poor, his love poured out in the Eucharist and
on the Cross, he does what we cannot; through his Resurrection from the
dead, his sending of the Spirit, and his continual life within the Church,
he does what we cannot. Jesus Christ was patient, kind, forgiving, and
loving. And he makes us fit to be disciples. He hires us as his apprentices.
Like Jeremiah, God knew us, each of us, long before any of us came to
be: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you...” Before
we existed, God was looking forward to this day, to this Mass, getting
us ready to receive the body and blood of His Son. Long before we heard
the job description, God was training us for the position.
We see this in today’s gospel. A mob takes hold of Jesus, and
brings him to the edge of a cliff, and wants to throw him off. Jesus is
one man against a mob, a mob enraged by his claim that Nazareth is a town
of little faith. Even worse, in that murderous crowd, Jesus probably sees
the faces of people he grew up with. Perhaps he sees the faces of men
who were friends with St. Joseph, who spent some time chatting in his
carpenter’s shop and watched Jesus play as an infant and a child.
Perhaps he sees some childhood friends now grown, boys he had played with,
and sat with in the synagogue. Not only is the Lord outnumbered, he must
be downhearted to see familiar faces in that crowd.
In this situation, if Jesus relies on his own strength, he is lost.
Nothing about our faith teaches that Jesus was the strongest man alive,
that he could not be hurt. We know he needed food and water and sleep,
we know he cried, we know he could be tortured and killed. At this moment,
if he tries to fight a crowd of furious townsmen, if he trusts in muscle
and bone, he will lose and he will die.
But Luke tells us that Jesus walks right through the crowd and leaves
them behind. How? The same way he does everything else in his life: he
hands himself over to God, he places his complete trust in the one he
calls “Father.” So remarkable is this that Luke does not even
try to describe what happens. He doesn’t say that the crowd falls
down in awe. He doesn’t say that a bright light comes forth from
Jesus and drives everyone away, or that a voice comes from the sky, or
a strong wind, or a host of guardian angels. Luke simply says, “Jesus
passed through their midst and went away.” The Father rescues His
Son from the hands of the wicked. “For it is I this day who have
made you a fortified city, a pillar of iron.... They will fight against
you, but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you, says
Jesus turns his entire life over to the Father, and that is the source
of his strength, the source of his victory, over this crowd, over our
sins, over all death.
All of us grapple with sins, some of the moment, some of long standing.
Some grapple with alcoholism, drug abuse, and pornography. Some married
couples have slipped into the habit of contraception, and so fallen away
from fidelity and trust. Perhaps at work we have eased into casual dishonesty,
laziness, and gossip. We are unfriendly to the poor, envious of the blessings
of others, experienced bearers of grudges. We are not patient, we are
not kind, we are quick to anger, we rejoice in what is false. Given all
this, and given the job description Christ has presented us with, we have
only one choice: Hand our lives over to Jesus Christ. There is no other
option. Give him praise for every success, however small; ask his forgiveness
for every sin, however great. Leave off counting up accomplishments and
victories, for nothing is ours except what Christ gives us. We enter this
world at God’s pleasure, and He receives us when we leave, and in-between,
He says: Follow my Son. Imitate him. Say what he says and act as he acts.
He will be your strength.
I can’t remember what job was advertised in that paper I found
on the train. I remember the description, but not the goal of all those
talents and skills. In these words of Scripture and in the new life of
the altar, we are reminded what the Christian job description is about:
eternal life with God, a life without jealousy and anger, without poverty
and death, without any laughter that does not praise the Lord. We begin
that job here. We never become the manager. We are always interns, apprentices,
trainees. But that is no shame. That is our job. We have been hired not
to lead, but to follow, to imitate, and to pray that our earthly work
of following Christ, may become, through the endless mercy of the Father,
an eternal career.