There is a lot of joy in following Jesus. The pages of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are filled with people who, when healed or forgiven, run off to tell the world about the rabbi from Galilee and the miracle they had experienced in his presence. The deaf man with a speech impediment speaks plainly, and the more Jesus charged the people not to tell anyone, "the more zealously they proclaimed it" (see Mark 7). The woman at the synagogue, hunched over for 18 years, stands straight (see Luke 13). A man, crippled on his mat for 38 years, carries his own bed and walks home (see John 5). A man with a "withered" hand is miraculously healed (see Matthew 12), as is a man suffering from legs swollen with fluid (see Luke 14). A hemorrhaging woman touches the hem of Jesus' robe and is instantly healed (see Luke 8). At a synagogue, Jesus delivers a man who has been oppressed by demons (see Mark 1). A paralyzed man is forgiven and then made whole (see Matthew 9). A woman caught in adultery is no longer condemned (see John 8). A sinful woman washes Jesus' feet with her tears at the house of Simon the Pharisee and is forgiven (see Luke 7). The Samaritan woman leaves her jar behind at the well, and invites all her neighbors to "meet the man who told me everything I have ever done" (see John 4).
These miracles give us reason to hope in Christ. They are evidence of God's love and proof of his mercy. But when they occurred, every one of them was met with criticism and palpable discomfort. The Gospels are filled with the words of those who did not accept Jesus or his teachings. Most often, these skeptics, doubters, and naysayers were among the most observant and religious people of the day. "Doesn't he know what kind of woman this is?" (Luke 7) "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"(Matthew 12) "This is blasphemy!" (John 10) "Only God can forgive sins." (Mark 2) "This man receives sinners and eats with them." (Luke 15)
Sadly, little has changed. Today, there is a significant contingent of well-intentioned Christian disciples who can't seem to avoid making judgements about how other well-intentioned disciples of Christ reach out to the world with the Gospel. It seems that while most of us are happy to accept divine initiatives in our own lives, we find it difficult to accept that God might just reach out to others in ways that make us uncomfortable -- even in ways we might find "scandalous."
That is not to excuse wrong-headed and misguided methods of evangelism. But the times, places, and ways we use to reach out to people who don't (and won't!) come to us need to multiply. And fast.
I don't particularly like rock or pop music. Nor am I a fan of an entertainment model of worship. But I know that God will do for others what he has done for me: he will speak to them in a language they understand and are ready to hear. So turn it up and bring it on. Theology on Tap? Sure. Who says a conversation about God can't be accompanied by a cold beer or a glass of wine? Novels? Why not? Movies? Yes.
When it comes to books, and plays, and films, however, let's get something straight. Stories meant to reach out will often feel like "fluff" to seasoned disciples. They might even seem "misleading" or "theologically incorrect." When they do, I'd suggest that serious Catholics and Christians take a deep breath and a long view. Realize that inside baseball doesn't help anyone in the stands, and doesn't attract any new fans to the game. It just makes the sport unappealing and easier to dismiss.
Take the current inside controversy surrounding "The Shack," for example. Nobody goes to a movie theater for theology, nor should they. But even fewer people will go to a movie theater for a preachy, overtly religious, spiritually agendized movie designed to make people who struggle with faith feel guilty. Movies aren't summas. They are stories with characters that are meant to be relatable. If the only characters we think we can or should "relate" to are saints and mystics, we are probably kidding ourselves. We are definitely making faith in Christ less accessible than Jesus ever intended. My advice is to see "The Shack" with someone in your family or circle of friends who doesn't go to church on a regular basis. Then have a conversation in which you do more listening than talking.
Look, I'm not comfortable with how God reaches out to everyone either, but I am grateful that he does reach out to everyone. And "everyone" means unrepentant sinners, addicts, willfully dulled consciences, and people who haven't been to church in a long time. Those are people we ought to miss, and do everything we possibly can to reach them with the Gospel Jesus brought, perhaps using some of the methods he did.
- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.