Those of you who are parents may have had this experience with your children. It is Halloween, and they got a ton of candy, which either known or unknown to you, they have eaten in great quantities. It was certainly sweet to the taste, but perhaps sour in the stomach. Things that are sweet at first may not always remain that way. We can think initially that something is good, in fact even very good, only to realize that we did not fully appreciate all of the things that may result from it.
It can be this way with the call we received from God, too. The parable of the weeds describes those situations where someone receives the word with joy but the early fervor fades. There are those who are very good at starting something, but cannot always follow that something through to completion. And there can be a temptation in western culture to think that when we are religious, it means a life free from any hardship or suffering.
The experience of John in the first reading serves as a reminder that answering the call has dimensions of both sweetness and suffering. It is not always easy to follow Jesus, and following Jesus does not always free us from pain or suffering. In fact, one consequence of following Jesus can be pain and suffering. Sometimes standing up for what is right produces consequences that are not always pleasant. Conversely, those who may seem to be quite religious may in fact be arising righteous anger in the person of Jesus.
We see this in the gospel reading. Jesus finds that way in which religion is being used to cheat people and place additional burdens upon them is simply unacceptable. The emphasis of something that may very well have started out as something good has shifted. It no longer leads to worship that pleases God, but sinfulness that takes advantage of people.
The point is, I think, that we need to have some caution in seeing that our consequences determine whether or not we are on the right track with Jesus. To be sure, a relationship with Jesus can bring peace, but as we saw in the life of Jesus, discerning and following the will of God, when it leads to something unpleasant, can cause anxiety. Consider the garden of Gethsemane. And yet, how this anxiety and suffering had such outstanding benefit for you and me!
The common element, it seems to me, when we consider Jesus or John, is that they remained in an ongoing conversation with the Father. Such is what helps us to see the pathway to faith. We too should be in ongoing conversation with the Father. We too should seek to remain close to the Sacraments. We too should avail ourselves of the spiritual tools of our faith. In that way, we will not fall prey to seeking “quick grace” but will, as did John, and certainly Jesus, come to see that when we do the Father’s will, we become our most authentic selves.