There is a very clear and consistent principle in the New Testament which stated simply is “No one goes away from Jesus Christ unchanged.” That is to say, no one encounters him and leaves that encounter in the same condition that they began it. The blind man came away seeing, the deaf man came away hearing, the lame left walking, lepers went away cleansed, the poor had the good news proclaimed to them, those without a shepherd gained a Shepherd, those without a teacher, were taught, the sick got well, and the dead were raised to life.
Sadly too there were some who went away changed for the worse. Yes some went away glad, but some went away sad and some went away mad. The rich young man went away sad, for his possessions were many. And though hearing the call, he could not embrace it. The Pharisees, and other unbelievers one away mad, so mad that they plotted to kill Jesus.
Thus, no one goes away from Jesus unchanged. Jesus is no neutral figure. He is one who compels a choice and brings about a change. Some had their hearts melted, some had their hearts hardened but no one was unchanged. Either they were mad, sad or glad, but never unchanged.
This scriptural principle is often under appreciated and poorly understood today. At one level there are those who think they can remain largely neutral about Jesus, appreciating certain of his ethical teachings but doubting his divinity or of worshiping him as Lord.
Sorry, no can do. There is no middle way with Jesus. Either he is the Lord he claims to be. or a lunatic and a liar who is to be shunned as a blasphemer. But if he is the Lord, then we must worship him, put faith in him and base our life on his teachings.
Tertium non datur (No third way is given), there is no third team on the field, and if you think you can play for some third team of for both teams I got news for you about what team you’re really on.
But even for believers there remains a mitigated way in which this teaching is often diminished. If it is biblically true that no one goes away from Jesus Christ unchanged, then the question becomes whether a believer really believes this when it comes to liturgy, sacraments, prayer, and the reading of Scripture.
If it is true that the liturgy and the Sacraments are an encounter with the living Lord Jesus Christ, (and it is), then what are the expectations I bring to these encounters?
In my discussions with Catholics down through the years I’ve come to realize that most do not have many high expectations of their walk with Christ. Frankly, they expect very little to happen that is dramatically different or healing. And these low expectations, possibly rooted in sloth, tend to close them off from the dramatic transformation that one ought to expect from being in a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Many people, in fact, put more faith in Tylenol than in the Eucharist. How? Because when they take Tylenol they expect something to happen, for the pain to go away, the swelling to go down. Yes, they expect healing and change. But when people come forward to receive Holy Communion do they expect anything like this, anything at all?
Frankly, it is been my experience at most don’t expect much and many see the sacraments and the liturgy more as tedious rituals than transformative realities.
I lay a lot of the blame for this low expectation at the feet of us clergy. Very few of us preach and teach people that they should expect dramatic transformation through the faithful celebration of the liturgy and sacraments, personal prayer, the reading of Scripture and walking in fellowship with the Church. For the most part, the faithful usually hear only vague reasons given, if any at all, as to why such things are important or necessary, and why and how they can change your life.
All of this has to change. For as we’ve seen, it is a biblical norm that no one goes away from Jesus Christ unchanged.
But of course the encounter with Christ must be rooted in faith. And where faith is weak, the encounter is often vague and unfruitful.
To illustrate this recall that a woman in the crowd who had a hemorrhage for 12 years, reached out in faith and touched the hem of Jesus’ garment. When Jesus asked who touched him, feeling healing power go out from him, the disciples were amazed by the question and retorted that the crowd was hemming him in and that probably hundreds of people had bumped into him! But Jesus did not ask who bumped into him, he to ask who touched him. There is a big difference, and the different Is faith. Jesus congratulations woman and with joy tells her that her faith has saved her. (cf Mk 5)
And therefore for us too a more robust faith must be the solution. We must have a lively faith in the biblical norm that no one goes away from an encounter with Jesus Christ unchanged. And good faith in this truth draws us to have high expectations, and to go to the liturgy, to the Mass, prayer, to the reading of Scripture, and the Sacrament of Confession with high expectations rooted in the lively faith that we are going to encounter the living God, and that encounter will forever change us.
This must be our faith, these must be our expectations, namely radical transformation through the Lord’s celebration of the liturgy and in the sacraments.
We priests have to do a better job of preaching it, and all the faithful with their priests must embrace this truth: No one goes away from Jesus Christ unchanged! Any faith-filled encounter with him can and will have large effects. But our faith is critical.
It is time is Catholics to reclaim our birthright that comes to us through faith that Jesus Christ is alive, and ministers powerfully and effectively through the liturgy, the Sacraments and his word. If we will accept this truth and faith we will go away remarkably changed and transformed by the Lord who ministers to us.
No one is to go away from Jesus Christ unchanged, this means you.