Submitted by Deacon Jim Krupka

Today, the scriptures go into a serious matter of who is really “in” as a Christian. In the first reading, Jeremiah, rejected by the religious leaders around him, is called by God to his role as prophet. In the Gospel, Jesus’ neighbors were ready to throw him over a cliff. They saw him every day as the local carpenter’s son. His claims that he was the fulfillment of scriptural promises seemed absurd. They could see him as a loving, caring man but not fulfilling any divine promises. Their judgment was, no way can this Jesus be what he says. Jesus reminds them that he was not the first to be misjudged. Jesus pointed out that people missed the mark judging who would receive the prophet, Elijah. It was a widow in the out-of-the-way place, Sidon. They misjudged which of the lepers would get cured. They never guessed Naaman, a Syrian.
We, humans, have a well-established inclination to make judgments. No question, the judgment is usually quiet and inside us, but it happens nonetheless. In my work, I conduct personality preference testing that includes a measure of how inclined a person is to judge situations and others. It is part of the Myers Briggs testing that many here have done. In the MyersBriggs, there are four contrasts of personality preference. The last is the contrast between a preference to judge things as open and shut versus perceiving possibilities. In society overall, judgers have a slight edge on perceivers. Among Catholics, I find we are more inclined to judge. In my work locally, those inclined to judge outnumber perceivers 2:1. We Catholics are good at judging!
Judging in itself is not bad. It is good to know the difference between right and wrong and live by it. The plot thickens when we judge who’s an honest Christian and who’s not? In scripture times, it happened to Jeremiah and Jesus. Around the modern world, this is happening all the time. It’s not just among Catholics. Everywhere, in the name of religion, truth, morality, ideology, or political correctness, we’re erecting various tests to sort out membership in this thing called Christianity. The troubling part is that I often hear judgment directed at a person or group of persons and not what is wrong. People energized by a cause, sometimes a very good cause, set up a litmus test to see if someone else is in or out. How we stand on an issue determines how we are judged.
So it’s worth asking: Did Jesus have a litmus test? Is there one issue, principle, or dogma that can function as a criterion for judgment so that we can say that a person is to be loved as a brother or sister in Christ? The question isn’t a simple one. It asks whether there is any one thing inside the teachings of Jesus that can serve as a defining criterion as to what makes a person Christian? It challenges us to see how deep our loving Christian discipleship is.
Regarding the question of essentials, I propose that there are four things that Jesus asks of anyone who wants to be his disciple:
First, “keep the commandments,” both the big commandment “to love God and neighbor” and the ten commandments. “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word.” An essential component of Christian discipleship is being faithful in how we live day after day to the law God gave us with universal love at the top of the list.
Second, Jesus mandates social justice. This is clear from Jesus’ own life, from the gospel. One author I read pointed out that one out of every eight lines in the Gospels is an imperative to reach out to the poor. Universal love is core to this. We have no choice on that one.
Third, as Jesus defines it, discipleship demands involvement in a community of faith. Christian discipleship is not something we do alone. We journey to God as part of a church with each other. The challenge goes beyond mere membership. Our membership is to be a loving membership. As the First Epistle of John puts it: “The one who claims to love a God that he cannot see and does not love a neighbor whom he can see, is a liar.”
Finally, what Jesus asks of us as an essential component of discipleship is a loving heart. Discipleship isn’t just about what we do; it’s also about the spirit within which we do it. We need the right energy. When our concern for truth, orthodoxy, justice, or morality comes out of a place of anger, bitterness, or judgment, we are no longer acting as disciples of Jesus, no matter how right the cause. No action rooted in bitterness, hate, anger, jealousy, or self-righteousness can ever justify itself in Jesus’ name. Jesus offers everyone a chance for repentance and to come home. Love keeps that path open; hate and bitterness close it.
Jesus tells us that our virtue must go deeper than the virtue of the Scribes and Pharisees. The Scribes and Pharisees were sincere and decent people who loved God, tried to help the poor, were concerned about truth and morals, and practiced justice. But extreme love, like loving an enemy and forgiving a murderer, isn’t prescribed by justice, the ten commandments, church dogma, human decency, or even sincerity. Extreme love is an invitation to something deeper: mature discipleship. That is the universal call of Jesus Christ.
The second reading today tells us how. This passage from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians is one of the most used passages in scripture. It is common at weddings, funerals, and greeting cards. The “love is patient, love is kind” section of Paul’s letter. In that letter, we hear that true love is not a warm affection that tries to please everybody and never rocks the boat. The love that Jesus preached “is not snobbish.” It “does not brood over injuries.” It “does not rejoice in what is wrong,” instead, it causes us to react strongly against all forms of injustice and oppression. Like God’s love: it is the willingness to bring true good to others honest to God’s law and to live it. This kind of love embraces everybody, even those we see as not ideal Christians.
Pope Francis tells us that the Christian ideal is love that never gives up. Love can help us fight every evil. When we draw real love into our most profound battles, whether in society or a family, good has a strong chance of winning. Sometimes it does not seem that way when an angry, unloving condemnation can win a battle on a given day. But history is full of examples where strength through love has a more lasting effect.
Like St. Paul says, the sobering truth is that we are nothing unless we have this kind of love. So, if you’re looking for the litmus test of Christianity, discovering that love in everything, even toward those we oppose, is the answer. That can be hard. Jesus always stood by the truth. But he always acted with love. Sometimes that made him an outsider. But as I said, love endures with strength. Long after that crowd decided that Jesus ought to be hurled over a cliff, we know that love endured.
That’s our challenge amidst all the ugliness and judgment around us. When we are at our angriest against a person or wrong, find a place for love. That will make us unique. That will make us Christlike. That will make others want to have some of what we have. If we take that step, the world around us will become a lot better.