In the Gospels of the last four Sundays we have been following the story of Jesus’ early career. He went to be baptized. Then he moved from Galilee to Capernaum, when he heard that John the Baptist had been killed. He chose his apostles there (they somehow knew he was the one they wanted to go with). Last Sunday we heard part of his “inaugural address,” the beatitudes.
Now, this Sunday, Jesus begins to instruct the disciples about how to be his followers.
In our Gospel he says: be what you are. This is consoling advice. You get to be yourself! He gives images. If you are like salt, then don’t lose your flavor. If you are a lamp then don’t put a basket over yourself so no one can see your light. In sum, give taste and give light.
But would the disciples have followed Jesus if they had known what it really meant to “be yourself”? The First Reading says to share your bread with the hungry. Shelter the oppressed and the homeless. Clothe the naked. Do not turn away from your own. This is how you let your light shine in the darkness. This is how Jesus enlightened the world. He even went to death for it.
So this is the meaning of “becoming yourself.”
A big assignment. In our own day, “I just want to be me,” sounds selfish. “I get to do whatever I want whenever I want.” “Take care of number one.” “If it feels good, do it.” And so on.
In the recent culture of the United States, one of the classic songs made popular by Frank Sinatra is “I Did It My Way,” co-written by Sinatra and Paul Anka.
I planned each charted course,
each careful step, along the byway,
and more, much more than this,
I did it my way.
And so on. The main message is that “I” have succeeded in life because it is mine. No one dared to interfere with me. I did everything “my way.”
There is a backdrop of fear in this, something about not being free to be myself, having to do everything according to someone else's design.
The world and its population are very, very large and it is no surprise that mass production and mass advertising and mass purchasing give us the feeling that we are just cogs in a wheel: a giant, international, industrial wheel, worth very little in ourselves but contributing to the market as long as we do and buy what is dictated. So, “to do it my way” could be a statement about facing down the great machine and defying it outright.
The scriptures assume the opposite. They suppose that every human being is created with a unrepeatable, deep, interior shape. Rather than having to fight to do my own will, I need to allow the Spirit of God to find a home within the space that is me. This Spirit does not invade me, it is the essence of loving, of respect, of forgiveness. It is God. You and I are built to be at one with this presence. Becoming myself means becoming what I was built to be: a home for the Spirit of Jesus and of God.
God’s love becomes us. It will help us find ourselves as what we really are deep down: givers of food, helpers to the homeless, forgiving and loving members of society.