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Finding Our “WHY” with Jesus and St. John

January 16, 2024

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Simon Sinek is an author and motivational speaker who is best known for popularizing the concept of WHY. His first TED Talk in 2009 has received over 50 million views, and his book, Start with WHY has sold over 1 million copies in the US alone. Mr. Sinek says that only individuals and companies that clearly understand their WHY are successful. Why? Because only those who can clearly articulate their purpose, cause, or belief (their WHY) are able to inspire loyalty and command trust. 

Jesus had a simple WHY. It was to carry out the will of his Father. Of course, we know the cost of his fidelity to his Father’s WHY. As he said, “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38), and the will of his Father, the one who sent him, was to redeem humanity by his teaching, example, and death on the cross. Again as St. John told us, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). In word and deed, Jesus offers those who believe in him salvation by the forgiveness of their sins through obedience to his word and participation in his sacrifice. Through his teaching and sacrifice, he pierced the hearts of his first disciples, and sent them out to preach the Gospel to the world (Matt. 10:32-33). Just as he received his WHY from his father, Jesus’ WHY became theirs. 

Jesus handed his WHY on to his Apostles, and by word and example invited us all to make his WHY ours. That is clear by his response to the Pharisees who asked him what the greatest commandment was (Matt. 22:36-38). In his commentary on the Letter to the Galatians, St. Jerome tells a story to show how St. John the Beloved was still encouraging this WHY, or his way of love toward the end of his life:

Blessed John the evangelist, when he was staying in Ephesus until extreme old age, used to be carried to church with difficulty by the hands of the disciples. He was not able to put many words together with his voice and was accustomed to utter nothing but this during every gathering: “Little children, love one another.” Finally, the disciples and the brothers who were present became irritated  because they constantly heard the same thing over and over, and they  said, “Teacher, why do you always say this?” He answered with a statement worthy of  John: “Because it is the Lord’s command, and if it alone is done, it is enough.” (bk. 3, ch. 6)

Like Jesus responding to his Father’s will, Blessed John made Jesus’ WHY fully his own, and to the end of his life continued to admonish his friends to do the same. But, like Jesus’ disciples in the first century, we in the twenty-first century need to hear the same admonition over and over again too. There are some loves that come easily to us, but the way Jesus wants us to love is hard. He loved all persons, and repeatedly admonished his followers to love those he particularly loved—the poor, the sick, the disabled, and others on the margins who society tends to avoid. That kind of love is not so easy.

He kept company with people who were “different.”

Let’s put ourselves in the place of St. John’s first-century disciples and look at some examples from Scripture as a brief examination of our progress in Jesus’ commandment of love. 

First, a very familiar story, the parable of the wedding feast. St. Luke’s account of it in chapter 14 of his Gospel is a little different than Matthew’s. We’ll use St. Luke’s. You will recall that there was a man who planned a great feast and sent his servant out to invite all his friends to come join him. The invited had sorry excuses for why they couldn’t attend. One was newly married, another had just bought some oxen that needed tending, and another a new piece of land. The master was pretty angry at their rejection of his invitation, so he canceled those invitations and told his servant to go out and invite “the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” to join him instead (v. 21). 

Many of Jesus’ parables are opaque, but this one is clear. Jesus was rejected by most of the upper class of his time, largely because of this teaching. He kept company with people who were “different.” From the beginning of his ministry, his special concern was with those who were different, and he was adamant in his care for them. When John the Baptist was in prison and sent word asking Jesus if he was the expected Messiah or if they should be looking for someone else, what was his response? Go back and tell John what you see. “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, and the dead are raised” (Matt. 11:4-6). 

Every Sunday, we gather for our “Sacred Banquet in which Christ is received and the memory of his Passion is renewed” (Magnificat antiphon for the Feast of Corpus Christi). If we have people with disabilities at our banquet, do we include them as the Master would, with solicitude and love, or do we look past them because they make us uncomfortable? Do we heal them with our friendship by extending community, or do we leave them in their isolation and loneliness? 

Remaining in Luke’s Gospel, in chapter 16, we have the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. This one can make for an uncomfortable meditation. We all know the story. Lazarus was poor, “full of sores, [and] desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table.” To add to the scene, St. Luke tells us that the “dogs came and licked his sores” (v. 21). He seems like a pretty unsavory person. If you live in a big city like I do, you see Lazarus on the streets all the time.

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In the parable, the rich man, who some have named “Dives,” and Lazarus both died, but the rich man’s neglect of Lazarus didn’t go well for him. His eternity was fixed in torment while Lazarus was “carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom” (v. 22). When the rich man asked Father Abraham if at least his brothers couldn’t be warned of what awaited them if they continued in their neglect, what was the response? “He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (v. 31). Someone did rise from the dead, and we have heard the testimony of his rising. 

Who are the poor? Only those without money? Certainly not. The Church has always understood the poor to include those who lack not just material things but also those who lack faith, love, consolation in their suffering, the sick, the disabled—in other words, those on the margins. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear (Matt. 11:15). Why? Because that is what Jesus asked of us. We have been forewarned! 

These are just two examples from Scripture that challenge us to consider how we care for and welcome those with disabilities into our parish communities. There are more.

So how do we respond? How do we accept Jesus’ request to continue his saving work of love and solicitude for the poor, the disabled, and the marginalized?

There is some good news.

In 2014, a poll was conducted in Great Britain that showed 67 percent of people questioned reported that they felt uncomfortable talking with a person with a disability. It was interesting that the respondent’s biggest fears weren’t of disability itself but of their own insecurity that they might seem patronizing or say something that would upset the person. 

Discomfort can be overcome with grace and determination. We have all had to break through those things that at one time caused us to fear and tremble. Speaking in public, athletic contests, math tests, defending the faith in the public square, witnessing outside an abortion facility. I’m sure each of us could add to that list. 

Bishop Barron often speaks of the importance of identifying our summum bonum, our highest good. That is what drives us—it is our WHY. How about resolving in 2024 to move past the discomfort of welcoming people with disabilities into our communities—into our Sacred Banquet, where Christ is truly present along with his pledge of our own future glory. We don’t have to share the fate of the rich man in the story of Lazarus. We can be Dives, Dives in Misericordia–“Rich in Mercy.”