Friday, September 30, 2011

Come and See: Bringing Others (and Ourselves) to Christ

How can we bring others, especially those we love, into a right relationship with Jesus Christ?  And how can we ourselves come to know and serve Jesus better?  Almost every Christian struggles from time to time with at least one of these two questions.  And if we don't, we should.

Fortunately, Scripture deals with this issue, by showing us in John 1:35-49, how the earliest Disciples came to follow Jesus. Part of this passage was in yesterday's Gospel:
The next day John was there again with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus.

Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. It was about four in the afternoon.

Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two who heard John and followed Jesus. He first found his own brother Simon and told him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). Then he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John; you will be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

The next day he decided to go to Galilee, and he found Philip. And Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the town of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” But Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him.” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”
There's a lot that can be drawn from this passage, and this post will only scratch the surface.  But here are some of the things worth remembering, when we find ourselves in the position of folks like Philip, or folks like Nathanael:

1. Jesus, the Objective Truth

Look at how John the Baptist describes Jesus (Jn. 1:36): “the Lamb of God.” And look at how Andrew describes Him (Jn. 1:41): “the Messiah,” translated as “the Christ.” And Philip (Jn. 1: 45): “the One about Whom Moses wrote in the Law, and also the prophets.” And finally, Nathanel declares Him both “the Son of God” and “the King of Israel” (Jn. 1:49).

What these titles all have in common is that they’re objective truths about Jesus. They’re things that are either true or false, and not matters of opinion. None of the men we see here decide to follow Jesus because they like His message or His teachings. None of them even talk about His message or teachings in this passage.

Often I hear Christians proclaiming the Gospel in terms of what Jesus has done for them. And I don’t doubt that: God is very good. But Jesus isn’t an iPhone: we don’t choose Him over competing brands because it’s to our advantage. For many Christians in the early Church, and may Christians today, accepting Jesus Christ was (and is) a death sentence.

Why do these brave Christians willingly accept rejection, humiliation, and even death? Because Jesus is who He says He is. When we forget that, we quickly because lukewarm: following Jesus when it’s easy, ignoring or rejecting Him when it’s not.

The concern of the earliest Disciples wasn't “do I like this?” but “is it true?”  That should be our approach, too.  If you’ll forgive the comparison, you may like or dislike President Obama, but the objective truth is that he’s president. Pretending he’s not would just be delusional. Likewise, you may like or dislike Jesus, but the objective truth is that He’s the prophesied Messiah, the Lamb of God, the Son of God, and the King of Israel.

Our personal feelings, whether we like or dislike the Gospel, shouldn’t play a role. And that’s for good reason. If Jesus is who He says He is, we should follow Him, no matter how heavy the Cross, or how steep the price. If He isn’t, we should reject Him, even if His message appeals to us.

2. The Importance of Relationships

Another reason we Christians hesitate about proclaiming the Gospel is where do we begin? There are so many people in need of Jesus, and we’re so small. The problem seems overwhelming, and we throw our hands up in despair. But Scripture shows us a way forward: a small way that we can make a difference. John the Baptist present Jesus to his two disciples (Jn. 1:35); Andrew, one of those two disciples, then presents Him to his brother (Jn. 1:40-41); Philip introduces Him to Nathanael (also known as Bartholomew), who appears to be a close friend (Jn. 1:45).

That is, the journey of proclaiming the Gospel doesn’t start out by passing out tracts as bus stops or proclaiming Him on the street corner. It starts out smaller and much more intimate, by showing Jesus to the ones we love. This is, in many ways, harder. But it’s also more effective. Those who know and trust us, those who’ve seen the difference Jesus has made in our lives, are more likely to find the Gospel credible than absolute strangers. That doesn’t mean there’s no place for evangelizing strangers (see: this blog), but if we feel overwhelmed, this is the direction we should go.

3. Little Things Matter

One of the reasons that many Christians hesitate about proclaiming the Gospel more boldly is that rarely do we feel prepared. We worry that we don’t know Scripture well enough, or aren’t eloquent enough, or perhaps aren’t smart enough. We act like Moses, who was afraid to proclaim the truth of God, praying, “O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue” (Exodus 4:10).

But look at how the Gospel is presented to each man in this passage. There’s a short and simple message. The Holy Spirit does the heavy lifting: the people proclaiming the Gospel in this passage present simple truths about Who Jesus is. They don’t have to be Scripture scholars or apologetics pros. They just have to know and believe the Truth, and be ready to proclaim it… or more accurately, Him.

4. Come and See

Caravaggio, The Calling of. St. Matthew
So what happens when someone is interested in the Gospel, but has some questions, or perhaps some doubts? Look at how Jesus responds to the disciples’ question in John 1:39, “Come, and you will see.” And how does Philip answer Nathanael’s objection in John 1:46? “Come and see.”

That’s an important lesson for us to learn. When someone asks, “What’s the Mass like?” our first instinct is a lengthy explanation. Perhaps a better answer would be, “Come and see.”  This invitation isn’t just for those we’re speaking to. It’s also for us. This is from a description of a homily Pope Benedict gave on this passage back in 2006:
"The story of Nathaniel also offers another reflection,” the Holy Father continued, “in our relationship with Jesus, words are not enough.”
“Phillip invites Nathaniel to meet Jesus personally: ‘Come and see!’ Our knowledge of Jesus, above all, needs to be a living experience. The witness of others is certainly important, since, usually, all our Christian life begins with the proclamation that comes to us from one or more witnesses,” Benedict continued. “However, it is up to us to become personally involved in an intimate and deep relationship with Jesus.”
We're called to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  As Catholics, we're fidgety about that phrase sometimes, because of how it's used in Protestant circles.  But it's undeniably true.  The Gospel is both the objective Truth and a personal invitation.  We shouldn't ignore either half. The Gospel is as true as physics or historical chronology, but it's as inviting as a suitor outside the window of the woman he loves.

10 comments:

  1. @Joe: I must say, minus the 'What's the Mass like?'-Catholicism aspect, good article.

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  2. Hi Joe,

    (I'm having trouble posting comments to your blog posts. Hopefully I'll have some success this time round.)

    I find it difficult, when evangelizing, to cross the divide between Christ and The One True Faith. Let me explain:

    It's relatively "easy" to bring people to some sort of knowledge of Christ and even witness (if you're fortunate) that knowledge lead to their conversion to Faith in Him.

    The difficult part is getting them to understand that a fully realized faith in Christ warrants joining the Catholic Church.

    So, to put it in theologically suspect terms, it's easy to bring people to the Protestant, church-free version of Christ, but a helluva lot more difficult to bring them to the Catholic, we-are-the-body version of Christ (obviously we worship the same Person, but you get my drift).

    Should we be satisfied knowing that "at least they have Christ"? Because in my experience talking about the Catholic faith when trying to bring someone to Christ is a stumbling block.

    Any thoughts on approaching this dilemma?

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  3. Hello! I like what you've written here. Jesus comanded us to go out and make disciples, and He said if we're not gathering with Him, then we're scattering. I think the best thing to do is live good lives, because people are watching. Then, be prepared to answer others if they have questions. Learn the Bible, study the faith. Always remember that our words could spare someone the fate of Hell. I'm with Georg - I find it very difficult convincing people that they should be in the Catholic Church. It seems many Christians have a twisted view of history, or they don't think history matters. And the Catholic Church is very unpopular. Well, gotta keep trying. Thanks for your writings!!

    Donna

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  4. Michael,

    Thanks! I really appreciated that. It's nice remembering that at the end of the day, we're on the same team, even if we disagree on some pretty major stuff.


    Georg and Donna,

    I can't give a very good one-size-fits-all solution to this. Objections to Catholicism include the doctrinal, the emotional, the historical, and personal preference. You'll encounter everyone from folks who think Catholicism is beautiful and great, but just not for them, to folks who quite seriously believe the pope to be the Antichrist. Obviously, you don't approach these people the same way. And while some people refuse to have their views challenged, others are quite willing to read Catholic books or listen to Catholic talks, or even go to Mass with you.

    So know your audience. Figure out what major issues seem to be keeping this person where they are, and whether or not you've got the resources to address those needs. They may have some doctrinal dispute they want addressed, but just as often, they just need to see that Catholics love God and them.

    In the spirit of the original post, invite them to come and see. Maybe it's inviting them to read Beliefs of Catholics, or listen to a Scott Hahn CD, or maybe it's bringing them to Mass, or letting them know that despite their sins, Jesus Christ still loves them, and they'll still welcome in the Church.

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  5. A beautiful post, Joe. It calls us to what seems to be an immediate implication of the two great commands to love God and to love each other -- if we obey these commands and love as we ought, then we must obey what Jesus says by making disciples.

    Catholics have the strongest case in all of Christianity for coming to Jesus, yet somehow we seem hesitant to reach out.

    My point in this comment is that Catholics should be confident in what we offer non-Catholic Christians and non-believers.

    Several years ago, I came out of a sola scriptura group based in the Enlightenment with a strong tradition of knowledge of the scripture. It took 17 months of study and prayer to realize that despite decades of study, I had not known fully God’s will regarding the church. During those 17 months I was alternately horrified and elated at the prospect of becoming Catholic. I became Catholic for two reasons you identify in your post.

    First, I wanted to be even closer in my relation to Jesus, I wanted to love him and understand him more deeply. For many years he had drawn me, but now he was leading further and he was using the Bible and John Henry Newman and the Catechism. And what I was offered is something even more personal than I had known before. Wanting that personal relation is not Protestant -- it’s Catholic in the finest sense. And we must not yield that ground to those who promote “knowing Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior”, as if Catholics somehow do not know him even more deeply both in Word and in sacrament.

    Second, what else could I do? As you say, Jesus is who he is. He has authority to command both obedience and love. Once I understood his will more fully, in some sense it wasn’t even a decision. What sense does it make to argue with God?

    Thanks for the post. Bringing others to Christ should never be out of our mind.

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  6. @Joe: I like to think that we're on the same team, too. But, I couldn't pray with you (if it was possible), or say, "God bless," to you (2John) for conscience sake. Now, when Paul warned the laity that they shouldn't let those who delight in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify them for the prize, the prize wasn't just heaven, it was also the rewards in heaven (crown/crowns). So, you could lose either your place in heaven or your crown/crowns. Since I'd be VERY worried come judgement day for popes, bishops, priests, deacons, and even nuns and monks, I'd be somewhat worried, if I was you, being an apologist. Although, those RCC laity who fear God, are truly repentant, and don't condemn non-RCC Christians, there place is prepared in our Master's House. Yet, "let God judge those outside the church."

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  7. I fear I am still in the bringing myself to Christ phase - having rediscovered the importance and truth of my faith only recently after a long period of ambivelence. Your analogy to the iPhone is a particularly important message for me right now. I would have said before that I believed the gospels to be true, but I'm not sure I fully understood that. Now that I do, my approach to practically everything else has changed out of necessity.

    Thanks for your thoughts and insights. They are most helpful to me.

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  8. Hip, Thank you!


    Michael,

    I find these claims of yours just baffling. Despite your last sentence, you're clearly standing in judgment of those you believe are outside the Church. But how do you determine such a thing?


    In Christ,

    Joe

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  9. Robert,

    I really enjoyed your comment, and if you don't mind, I'd like to re-post it on the main site (instead of here in the comments) so more people can read it. Would you object?

    God bless,

    Joe

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  10. @Joe: I didn't judge once. The Word judges. That's why I said, "VERY worried," concerning popes, bishops, etc. That's why I said, "there place is prepared," concerning the laity. (Haven't you prepared something for someone who didn't show?) Hence, "let God judge those outside the church." Believers can be outside: "Not everyone who says, 'Lord, Lord'," yet also, "that they may learn not to blaspheme." Although He is The Judge, we are, in a sense, a judgement unto ourselves. The warnings AND hope are nigh. Consider them!

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