I could have done so much more

We know, of course, that we save no one. But we still have a task. We are to make Jesus known. That’s far simpler than being another Bishop Sheen, being an African martyr, or even teaching the truths of Scripture. By our faith, we are blessed, joyfully blessed. Is that what others, particularly strangers, see in us?

Image by Małgorzata Tomczak

I could have done so much more

By Steve Hall

Saturday of the Sixth Week of Easter
Acts 18:23-28
John 16:23-28

I’m sure you have noticed, but let me say it anyway.

Hollywood loves to use the storyline of one movie as the springboard for a new one. Thus, Gone With the Wind gave us Scarlett; Frankenstein gave us Bride of Frankenstein; Back to the Future gave us versions II and III; and Godzilla gave us versions too numerous to count. You can blame today’s reflection on John’s reflection from last week, as this is the sequel. However, I must say that the sequel's principal image came to mind before John’s reflection was read.

The text for today introduces us to a well-spoken young man from Alexandria in Egypt. He has arrived in Ephesus, a city in Asia Minor. Luke immediately informs us that he is an eloquent speaker, an authority on the Scriptures, and has already learned about Jesus. Immediately, he began to evangelize as “with ardent spirit, [he] spoke and taught accurately about Jesus . . . . He began to speak boldly in the synagogue . . . .” 

His story continues as Christians in the community assist him with the accuracy of his gospel teaching. Soon, he moves on to Achaia, again proclaiming the good news. “He vigorously refuted the Jews in public, establishing from the Scriptures that the Christ is Jesus.” This kind of evangelization continued for several centuries in the life of the Church.

Refuting inaccuracies still comes into play, thus confirming what we have always known. The more things change, the more they remain the same. There have been variations through the ages, but The hubris of this guy, Jesus, remains a constant, consistent problem. John said as much in his reflection last week:

“We, followers of Christ, are tolerated as long as we don’t acknowledge Jesus’ living presence, his merciful nature toward the righteous and unrighteous, and his constant call to pay attention to what he said, says, and will say. We can publicly give Jesus prophet props, good genes, and Tony Robbins-level speaking skills. But for the good of other religions, we must keep our worship language to ourselves. Oh, and unless we want to get arrested, shut up about abortion, transgenders, and homosexual marriage. Finally, we need to tamp down the “king” titles we give to Jesus, and refrain from attributing all the amazing stuff that happens to him and his cohorts (the Father and the Spirit).” 

It seems that evangelization is getting tougher than it’s been since the days of Rome. But with the guidance of the Spirit, evangelization continues.

The movie Schindler’s List tells the story of Oskar Schindler, an active German businessman during the Second World War. The man used his business as a means to protect hundreds of Jews from death at the hands of the Nazi’s. He did so at serious risk to himself; and he did it throughout the war years, buying the lives of others through his business wealth.

There is a powerful scene that comes towards the end of the movie. The war is over. Schindler and the people he has protected are seen at a small town train station in the late evening. The Jews are leaving Germany for what they hope will be safer countries — some even to Israel. Oskar Schindler is there to see them off. He looks at his watch to check the time. It’s a beautiful watch. An expensive watch. And suddenly, inexplicably, he falls apart, clearly in great distress. From the depths of his sorrow, we catch his words somewhat incoherent amid tears. “I could have sold the watch and saved so many more.”

The Spirit makes quaint, even bizarre connections. The circumstances of the Jewish people have been floating around in my head, probably because of the war and the turmoil on college campuses. I’m not sure what awakened this connection, but abruptly Speilberg’s movie came to mind, particularly this final scene; and it did so in the context of some remark about evangelizing. We are not encouraged to discard the images of the Spirit. There’s no choice but to look at what you have been given, and what I was given was overwhelming. What does this closing scene from Schindler’s List have to do with evangelization?

My grandson insists that Grandma wait for him at heaven’s entrance so that he won’t get lost when he gets there. The scene is precious to my wife and me, but the image that evolved for me from the ending of Schindler’s List was far different. I’m standing at the entrance to heaven, and abruptly, my heart is overwhelmed as I notice those not there. Guys from the gym. Some of my family members. People I used to work with. Great neighbors I had when living on Quincy Street. Many others who, in major or minor ways, came to know Jesus because of a word from me were there, too. But a far greater number never heard that witness. 

“I could have sold the watch and saved so many more.” But it never happened. I ignored the lies and deception that had infiltrated the conversation. I didn’t defend the truth when given the opportunity. I replied to others harshly, not with love. I was a sober SOB more involved with the troubles of this world rather than with the amazing work of Jesus, the Spirit, and the Father. I was reluctant to say that my many blessings came from God. So I stood there at Heaven’s Gate, overwhelmed by my failure. “I could have helped to save so many more.”

Of course, we know that we save no one. But we still have a task. We are to make Jesus known. That’s far simpler than being another Bishop Sheen, an African martyr, or even teaching the truths of Scripture. By our faith, we are blessed, joyfully blessed. Is that what others, particularly strangers, see in us? Or are we the epitome of worry?

There is another part to this story; that’s why we are given the gospel reading. This text from the apostle John comes early in extended teaching to the apostles, and the apostles only. None from the adoring crowds. None from the troubled, the sick, or the injured. Just the apostles; and Jesus is giving them instructions on what they are to do and what they should expect. In this context, we hear: “Whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.” The promise is not given so they can get stock tips, have a long and happy life, or dispense with the obnoxious neighbor. Rather, it’s given for those times we need the right words, the occasions when we need to truly hear the other, the encounters where we need some backbone. The promise is given to strengthen us in whatever way necessary as we witness the joy of our salvation. It’s a promise that will be fulfilled on the spot.

“For the sons of this world are wiser in their own generation than the sons of light.” (Luke 16:8)

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