Fr. George Smiga
May 12, 2013
I just checked the latest Gallup poll and the approval rating of Congress is not very high. Only 15 percent of Americans believe that Congress is doing a good job. Now, there are many ways to explain this dismal rating, but a part of it certainly comes from Congress’ ability to anger people. One of the ways it does this is by imposing new requirements on states, local governments, and individual Americans without providing the money by which those new requirements are to be implemented. Such a demand is called an unfunded mandate. It makes people angry because suddenly they have some new requirement and are not given the means by which to do it.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus makes it clear that he is not like the United States Congress. He begins by giving a huge mandate. He tells his disciples that they are to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. This is an immense expectation, especially for a small group of fishermen and tax collectors. He is commanding them to go out and change the world. But when Jesus commands something, he also provides the means by which that command will be accomplished. This is why he tells his disciples that they are to remain in the city until they are empowered from on high. If Jesus is going to command that his disciples be his witnesses, he is going to give them the Spirit to make them so. There are no unfunded mandates with Jesus.
This truth is important to remember as we try to follow the Christian life. As disciples of Jesus, we face some serious and difficult commands. Jesus commands us to speak out against injustice, even though it might make us unpopular. He commands us to lay down our life for our neighbor. He commands us to forgive our enemies.
When we hear these commands our first response is: “I can’t do that. I don’t have the courage, the generosity, or the goodness to follow that command.” It is then that we must remember that Jesus fully intends to fund all of his mandates. This is why we, like the disciples, must wait for the power of the Spirit that will allow us to accomplish what Jesus asks of us.
Waiting, then, is essential to discipleship. Many times, people come to talk to me, because they are struggling with the expectations of the gospel. They have been hurt deeply or rejected by someone. Their life has been turned upside-down, because someone has offended them. They come to me and they say: “Father, I know that Jesus commands me to forgive my enemy, but I can’t do it. When I think of this person, all I have is anger and a desire to get even.”
In those circumstances, I encourage people to wait, reminding them that the ability to forgive requires God’s help. If Jesus commands us to forgive our enemy, he must provide the means by which we are to do it. Forgiving an enemy runs contrary to our human inclinations, and so we are dependent on power from another source. We must wait for power from on high, in order to follow Jesus’ directive.
Waiting for that power is a part of the Christian life. But we need to wait in a particular way. This is important. Even when we know that we are not able to follow Jesus’ command, we must take that command in. We must accept what Jesus says, even when we know we can’t do it. We take in the command and we hold it in prayer, asking God to give us strength. We pray honestly: “Lord, I know you command me to forgive my enemy. I can’t do it. Lord, I know you command me to take up my cross. I don’t have the strength. Lord, I know you command me to speak out against injustice. I don’t have the courage.”
We accept the command, and then wait for the power to follow it. We take the command in, believing that God’s Spirit will come to us and allow us to do what is required. We accept the command without guilt. We take it in with patience, waiting for God to act.
Jesus does not give us impossible commands. But they may be impossible today. This is why we wait as the apostles waited. We wait for the gift of God’s Spirit, because when the Spirit comes, all things are possible. And on that day, when the Spirit empowers us, we will be able to do what Jesus commands us.