It’s a simple question, and you will spend your whole life answering it: Who are you? Are you the person others expect you to be, or are you an authentically original expression of God? Will you live in such a way that you leave others no choice but to decide: Will they live as their culture and faith tradition have taught them to live, or will they live as God is creating them to live?
Here’s how the question came to Jesus (cf. John 10:22-30). Some mainstream religious folks, “pillars of the church,” gathered around him at the temple, the symbolic center of their faith, and said to him, “How long are you going to keep us guessing? If you’re the Messiah, tell us straight out” (John 10:24 The Message). They wanted to know if he was the one who would set the world right, heal their broken lives, usher in the reign of God, and reveal a new heaven and a new earth, or if they should they wait for someone else. Their expectations were misguided, but I assume their motivation was good. They really wanted to know: Who are you? Are you the one?
The world always asks that question of us who profess to be the body of Christ. Are we the ones who will continue the ministry that God began in Jesus, who will set the world right, heal broken lives and fractured relationships, usher in the reign of God, and reveal a new heaven and a new earth, or will we leave it to someone else? And we must answer the way Jesus answered, not by saying plainly “yes” or “no,” not by professing our faith in the words of some historic creed or practice, but by proving our identity as the body of Christ in the way we live and the work we do – by embodying the love of God.
Jean Vanier died a few days ago. Vanier founded the L’Arche movement, where people who are intellectually able live and work with people who are intellectually disabled in communities of transforming love. What he said about L’Arche could be said about any community or congregation that lives authentically as part of the body of Christ.
“We may not all be called to do great things that hit the headlines,” he said, “but we are all called to love and be loved, wherever we may be. We are called to be open and to grow in love and thus to communicate life to others, especially to those in need.” I like that phrase, “to grow in love and thus to communicate life to others.” To love someone, he said, “is to show to them their beauty, their worth and their importance; it is to understand them, understand their cries.”
It’s not enough to do things for people in need. Vanier believed we need “to enter into relationship with them, to be with them and help them discover their own gifts.” Sharing our resources with those who need them is essential for a life of Christian faith, but simply writing a check is never enough unless we also develop a living relationship with those in need.
To do that, we don’t settle for being what our culture defines as religious. We aspire to embody love, to be love as God is love – unfailing, uncompromising, unending, unconditional love – the kind of love a mother offers her child.
Jean Vanier inspired countless people. Many of them would say something like this: “I feel better in his presence, I feel loved and heard.” When asked what she thought of Vanier the first time she heard him, one woman from India did not even mention what he said: “I was so touched by the way he listened, by the way he was present to each person.”
I suspect that’s what people said about Jesus, too. Is it what people will say about the church?