I used to be (and unfortunately, still am at times) a rather obnoxious Catholic. Fueled by my enthusiasm for Truth — and wanting affirmation of my knowledge — I would loudly proclaim Church teachings urgently, so that other people would no longer live in error. Particularly in a culture of moral relativism and a “do what makes you happy” environment, wanting to immediately step onto a doctrine-blasting soapbox seemed like a good thing to me. Yet, the more I examined my life, heart, and ever-abundant pride, the more I realized that I was going about evangelization in the wrong manner. As I began to read Scriptures more and more, I began to really notice how Jesus interacts with other people.
“Jesus went around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness. At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned,* like sheep without a shepherd.” ~Matt 9:35-36
Jesus’ heart was moved with pity. In Mark’s Gospel, when Jesus encounters a rich young man, we learn that “Jesus, looking at him, loved him” (Mk 10:21). Time and time again, we see that Jesus is moved with love, and pity for the people he meets-and he lets this compassion flow into the interactions he has. He looks at these men and women intently and listens to them.
As I reflect on the actions of Jesus, I feel challenged. Even when people were living in sin, he didn’t immediately jump onto a moral high horse. First, he looked upon them with love. In our current culture, Jesus’ approach may not seem to initially be challenging — after all, we are living in an age that is all about acceptance and affirmation. “Just love people for who they are and accept them” is a common refrain. How dare we criticize sinful actions! After all, aren’t we supposed to be like Jesus, who looked on others with love?
Yet, while Jesus looked on people with love, compassion, and pity, he never affirmed the sinful choices and lifestyles that pushed people away from God. The story of the woman who was caught in adultery (recorded in the eighth chapter of John’s Gospel) is fairly well-known and loved, so let’s look at that for a moment. When Jesus encounters this woman, does he say “Woman, I just want to love and accept you; you need to do what makes you feel happy“? No, he does not. Instead, Jesus says: “Neither do I condemn you. Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more” (Jn 8:11). He looks upon the woman, loves her, listens to her, and invites her to become transformed and change her life.
This is what really challenges me as I reflect on the words and actions of Jesus. It would be fairly easy for me to, upon meeting another person, jump into an attitude of “I will preach doctrine at you because you’re living in sin and I know better.” I’ve done this far too many times as I’ve sought to fuel my pride and be known as the person who was instrumental in another individual’s conversion. It would also be convenient to fall onto the other end of the spectrum and embrace the all-too-common attitude of moral relativism that’s sweeping our culture.
Instead of these extreme approaches, I’m trying to imitate what Jesus does — and this is hard for me. I’m holding my tongue more and first listening to the stories of the people I meet. I’m seeking to encounter others with an open heart. I’m trying to walk into conversations without the expectation that I’ll convince another person of a certain teaching or doctrine. I’m trying to slow myself down and actually form relationships and build bridges of communication with other people. I’m striving to be more open to the Holy Spirit, and while I don’t back down from my convictions, I’m seeking to gaze at other men and women with God’s love and compassion.
I often fail at this. Sometimes, I should be quicker to speak up about my beliefs, but I’m silent. Other times, I should probably remain silent instead of speaking up in a rather harsh manner! I’m an imperfect evangelizer, but I’ll keep praying and try to let God use me in whatever small ways he can.
Photo Credit: “People” by MabelAmber via Pixabay, CCO Public Domain.