Bishop Edward B. Sharfenberger
Bishop Edward B. Sharfenberger
Ever dared to shake your fist at heaven? Honest enough to admit you have ever gotten mad at God? Or maybe just had a few questions you would like to take up when you and God are alone together sometime? In a safe place, of course, when your arms are long enough to still have control of God and to keep God at a certain distance …

As we enter this holy season and I contemplate the magnitude of what it means, I’m thinking of a Broadway musical of yesteryear entitled “Your Arms Too Short to Box with God,” drawn from biblical texts on God’s relationship with two sons. Several Gospel accounts begin with this theme, including the parable of the prodigal son. The point is that all of us at times talk ourselves into thinking we would be better off if God would just see things our way, answer our prayers when and how we demand, leave us to define and use our lives as we see fit and just give us a little boost to get on with our own lifestyle. God on demand! It’s nice to have God as a pal in a pinch, but it doesn’t seem safe to be around God so much — or to put it in common terms for some contemporary Christians, to be “too Catholic.” Look what happened to Jesus after all!

I think it is reasonable to say that Jesus tends to have a lot of fair-weather friends that desert him when the going gets rough. Sticking with Christ seems tough at times, as Peter and Judas show us. Where were most of the apostles when Jesus landed on hard times? His three closest friends fell asleep on him in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before he died. None of them, but for one, were at the foot of his cross the day he died.

Many of the friends of Jesus began to think he had taken things too far. It wasn’t supposed to get so messy like on Good Friday. But it did. Christ went around doing good. He always told the truth, inspiring people to be their better selves, lifting them up when the world — sometimes even they themselves — beat them down. He restored the health of those who had fallen ill, healed broken hearts and souls, reunited outcasts with their families and communities, such as the lepers he healed and the blind and crippled he made whole. And what did he get for this? Nothing. There are few passages in the Gospels with reports of many coming back to say “thank you.”

Let’s face it. Christ came to a bad end in this world. And those who stick with him are going to find life quite a challenge as well. But we have some heartening good news to hang onto. Whoever stays with the Lord always pulls through — and lives to tell the story!

Christianity has certainly had its critics, and among arguments proffered by its detractors are the sufferings that come to those who stay true to the faith and hang on to the Cross. A remarkable document, written sometime between AD 130 and the end of the 2nd century attests to this: the so-called “Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus.” Here are a few passages from it, remarkably relevant to many Christians living the Gospel today. At once it challenges and emboldens them, even as it puzzles the world. From Chapter 5 …

“Christians are not distinguished from other men by country, language, nor by the customs which they observe. They do not inhabit cities of their own, use a particular way of speaking, nor lead a life marked out by any curiosity. The course of conduct they follow has not been devised by the speculation and deliberation of inquisitive men. They do not, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of merely human doctrines.

“Instead, they inhabit both Greek and barbarian cities, however things have fallen to each of them. And it is while following the customs of the natives in clothing, food, and the rest of ordinary life that they display to us their wonderful and admittedly striking way of life.

“They live in their own countries, but they do so as those who are just passing through. As citizens they participate in everything with others, yet they endure everything as if they were foreigners. Every foreign land is like their homeland to them, and every land of their birth is like a land of strangers.

“They marry, like everyone else, and they have children, but they do not destroy their offspring.

“They share a common table, but not a common bed.

“They exist in the flesh, but they do not live by the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, all the while surpassing the laws by their lives.

“They love all men and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned. They are put to death and restored to life.

“They are poor, yet make many rich. They lack everything, yet they overflow in everything.

“They are dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor they are glorified; they are spoken ill of and yet are justified; they are reviled but bless; they are insulted and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as evildoers; when punished, they rejoice as if raised from the dead. They are assailed by the Jews as barbarians; they are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to give any reason for their hatred.”

Sound familiar?

What happened is that Christ took all our questions, all our anger, all our complaints about God upon himself. He absorbed our sins, was humiliated for our pride and washed our guilt out in his blood. All our rage screamed out to high heaven on the Cross and God answered with — incredibly — a blessing and a warm embrace. All is forgiven. All are blessed. He died, yes, but lived to tell the story when he walked right out of that tomb. This salvation is ours, if we choose to receive it.

The only truth that really matters, if we are to live lives that are fully human and reach our eternal potential, is the power of God’s living Word incarnate, Jesus Christ, to divinize us, so that we can live on earth as if already in heaven. It is ours to accept or reject. We can curse God and the world for all that is thrown at us for living as Jesus did and invites us to follow. Or we can accept his invitation and walk with him to Calvary and the life that lasts forever, even beyond the grave. His life now is ours now ... if we hang on to the Cross!
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