Pastoral Message – August 14, 2022
I had a conversation not too long ago with someone I’ll simply refer to as a free-spirit. He was driving a van seemingly held together by stickers reflecting religious or political themes. He parked right next to where I was getting out of my car. I didn’t think too much about it. I took my walk along the beach. Then when I returned, I saw that “free-spirit” had opened up his van and set up camp in the parking lot right behind my car. He was sitting in a beach chair with his feet propped up on my bumper. If I wanted to drive back to the parish, I was going to have to engage with the man. I wasn’t exactly sure how the engagement was going to go.
“Hey, how ya doing” – said as non-confrontational as I could manage.
“It’s a beautiful day, Brother.”
Mr. Free-Spirit had a positive attitude. “I’ve gotta go to work and this is my car. Can I help you move some stuff so I can move my car?”
“Brother, it’s a beautiful day. It’s too beautiful to work. Just call your boss and tell ‘em you can’t work today. You got to be free. You know Jesus said the truth will set you free. You know Jesus don’t you?”
Mr. Free-spirit then waxed poetic about love and peace, free speech and the 2nd Amendment, throwing in Jesus’ name every now and then, adding some authority. I wasn’t listening too closely. While he was rambling on, from behind my car, I was busy moving Free-spirit’s parking lot furniture, dog bowls, and a couple bikes in pieces. He ended his rant, repeating “Bro, ya know Jesus don’t ya?”
Finally, while moving a cooler and a lounge chair I replied, “Yeah, Jesus and I are acquainted.”
“Ya know bro, Jesus just wants us to be happy. It’s all about love, man. It’s all love.”
Free-spirit presented Jesus as a pretty positive dude – who pretty much shared Free-spirit’s world and political views. I agreed by repeating “Yep, it’s all about love. But Jesus told me I’ve gotta get myself to work.” So opening my car door, I started to get in. Free-spirit then stood up and shook my hand.
I bid him adieu. “Alrighty then. Well, God bless you and enjoy your day here at the beach.” Free-spirit then asked me for a hand-out. I gave him 2 bucks and a bag of plums.
Now, Mr. Free-spirit and I had a happy exchange. Still, I couldn’t help but notice that his image of “Jesus” wasn’t complete. Mr. Free-spirit thinks about Jesus in the same way as a lot of folks – that the Son of God is a polite, socially-acceptable, free-spirited, happy-go-lucky Jesus who is all about feel-good love and peace. And while Mr. Free-spirit might be very sincere in his concept of Jesus’ desire for humanity, his notion doesn’t line up with Scripture, particularly today’s Gospel.
St. Luke tells us at the end of Chapter 12 that Jesus said he was bringing fire and division to human experience. Throughout Luke 12, Jesus isn’t offering polite platitudes, but cautionary parables and predictions. Jesus is rattling cages, stirring things up and upsetting religious complacency. Jesus is more fire than free-spirit, and more brimstone than feel-good. This proves that Jesus is our challenging God who’s love is passion, sacrifice, resurrection and existence.
Mr. Free-spirit was initially correct- Jesus is all about love- but not a simple, polite love, instead a complex, complete Divine love. Jesus isn’t simply a comforting idol of our imagination. Our relationship with the Son of God must be complex and complete. And as Catholic Christians, we find love and peace in giving ourselves over to living our lives following Jesus so we can live freely in the Spirit of Christ Jesus.
So next time you have an encounter in a beach parking lot, or with someone who diminishes Jesus to a political or feel-good or self-serving idol, don’t be taken in. Instead, give thanks to God that we so complete a Savior as Jesus, the Christ.