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Why Jesus approves “Crank me up!”

Faithpoint | Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Of all the surprises that Jesus’ Incarnation unleashed – the inversion of happiness in the Beatitudes, the awesome power of the miracles, the scandal of the Cross, and ultimate triumph of the Resurrection – there is one mystery, easy to miss, that, in a sense, startles me more than all the others. One day, in the midst of his public ministry, Jesus beholds the crowds “like sheep without a shepherd” and so asks his disciples to “pray that the master of the harvest might send laborers out into the harvest.”

Is it not at least puzzling – if not, frankly, embarrassing – that the self-proclaimed Good Shepherd, the one whose voice his sheep recognize and so follow, should suddenly see the crowd he predicted would follow as “shepherd-less?” And rather imploringly begin to look for someone to help him?

It would be like watching a 4th-and-goal play in the game’s final minute, and suddenly see Charlie Weis sitting next to you in the stands, tapping you on the shoulder and saying, “Too bad there’s nobody here who knows to call the play-action.” We’d stop our jigging and cranking to scream, “Get down there!”

Sometimes I feel like responding that way to Jesus. You see the utter misery that the hurricanes have unleashed this month in Haiti, as whole sections of the country starve while living in four feet of mud. And I feel like reminding Jesus: “You had a crowd of 5,000, and fed them all with a wave of your hand. Well, do it again!”

But right here is the mystery – Jesus doesn’t do it again. He doesn’t just wave his hand and magically take care of the problems of all these people. In fact, he does something much different. He lays one of the biggest guilt trips in recorded history on his disciples. He says, “The harvest is so rich, but the laborers are just so few….”

It’s as if Jesus realizes his disciples have now reached a certain maturity in their discipleship. So he reveals to them a deeper mystery of his life – that he needs them as part of his plan of redemption. But not as cogs in a big old ministry machine. Rather, we hear next that most beautiful scene – as one by one, by name, Jesus calls his disciples to him – Peter, Andrew, James, John, Bartholomew, Thaddeus. The list, granted, is a little short on women’s names. But the list has grown over the years, and, if we are willing, the list includes us.

Can we really grasp what is happening here? Jesus is calling us, by name, because for some mysterious reason, Jesus has decided NOT to wave a magic wand over the world and make everything better. For some mysterious reason, Jesus has decided he wants and needs US to help him fulfill his mission.

Are we really willing to fathom what we are saying here? For what we are saying is this: that Jesus Christ can’t do it all by himself – or at least, chooses not to. Jesus Christ needs help.

We often recite the famous prayer of St. Teresa of Avila:

“Christ has no hands now but yours.

Christ has no eyes now but yours.”

And I wonder if we realize how radical a prayer this Doctor of the Church wrote. Because it’s tinged with an implication that Jesus can’t do it on his own!

And I want to ask: “Why? He’s God – why can’t He just do it himself? It’d be a lot easier, and he’d probably do a darn good job of it!” Why doesn’t God just fix everything himself?

Why do people have to suffer and die in Iraq today? Why does God need peacemakers to do the slow work of global peace for him?

Why did some people in Haiti die today from starvation? Why does God need us to do the slow work of social justice?

Why do all children not get equal opportunities in their education? Why does God need teachers committed to the slow work of improving education, so that quality education becomes a reality for every child, no matter their income, race or school district?

Why doesn’t God just fix it all Himself? Why does God look out over our world, and see how helpless we sometimes are, and seem to say, “I wish there was somebody there who could do something about all this.” Why doesn’t Jesus just fix it all himself?

All I know is: the day you decided to allow your faith to be the primary lens through which you view the world, is the day you promised to live in the tension of that mystery for the rest of your life. It’s either that, or close your eyes and wait it out – but the suffering will still be there when you open your eyes again.

Jesus just doesn’t fix it all. But Jesus does one thing – this we must believe, of it is the mystery of his own suffering on the Cross: He sees it – every bit of our human anguish. He does not close his eyes to one moment of it.

But after he sees it, he does the most mysterious thing: He turns to us, and he calls our name.

He doesn’t call us to come as perfect human beings, as people with no flaws and no limitations. We only have to look at Peter and James and the rest of the disciples to know that. For some mysterious reason, He just asks us to come, and give of our gifts, as generously and skillfully as we can, whatever our limitations may be.

Christ has a message for the suffering of the world. And his message is this: “Rejoice, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand!” But Christ has no mouth now, but ours. So, don’t just sit there – crank it up!

This week’s Faithpoint is written by Fr. Lou DelFra, CSC, Director of Bible Studies for Campus Ministry. He can be reached at delfra.2@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.