It is common for a teacher to try to use an familiar example to help students grasp and understand a complex topic. The prophet Jeremiah uses such images quite often when trying to get the people to convert. Today’s image is quite strange, but the point is clear. If we allow ourselves to be away from God, when God has done so many things for us, we will rot. The good news is indeed the gospel. Just a little bit of God’s grace is enough to help us to experience grace and life.
Remember salt pork? It was not the most wonderful thing to eat, but it made quite a difference. There are those people when eating a meal, even before they taste the meal it must be covered with salt. There are foods that must be eaten with salt, at least in the opinion of some people. French fries. Potato chips. Eggs. Salt adds flavor. But salt also protects. Salt helps to preserve foods from going bad. In an age without refrigeration, salt was an important ingredient in any kitchen.
By using this image, Jesus helps to create the analogy to faith, which has similar qualities. Faith, too, adds flavor to life. Faith too, preserves and protects important things. A disciple is a witness. A disciple has discovered how it is that faith protects. And a disciple is one who makes sure to preserve the openness to God, to his grace, so that the flavor that changes life is not lost.
Sometimes we can feel that simply “being a good person” is enough. And certainly, it is a good start. But our faith really calls us to be something more than simply “a good person” because there is something so much greater in store for us when we open our hearts to a relationship with Jesus.
Too often I think we settle for too less when we think of Jesus. We can be people that hope we squeeze into heaven, or we can limit heaven simply to a large family reunion, or we can think that every body goes to heaven regardless of what they do.
But today’s readings remind us that not only can our lives be better today if we seek a deep relationship with Jesus, the promise held out to us is magnificent indeed. I am learning that more and more too many Catholics are not thinking about the possibility that we can have a real, life-giving, authentic, personal relationship with Jesus. But such is the promise of the readings today. Don’t sell God short.
The first reading describes the beauty of the next life. Using familiar terms of opulence and excess, we are reminded that nothing can possibly compare to the tremendous reality of heaven. The reality is, that heaven is far more than we can possibly imagine. Saint Paul tells this to the Corinthians. It has not even dawned in their hearts (and ours) what God has prepared for us if we love God and enter authentically into a relationship with him.
Authenticity, or having no guile, is what Jesus observes about Bartholomew (sometimes call Nathaniel). There is no guile. But just as we today are too small with our hope of what God can do, so too is Bartholomew. Simply being observed by Jesus under the tree is enough for him to trust the testimony and witness of Philip about Jesus. But there is so much more!
So, today, think big! Consider that God has more fulfillment and love for you than you can possibly imagine or dream about! Know that God is much bigger than most of us think he is.
Heroes. It is important to have heroes. When I was teaching in a Confirmation program, I referred to sponsors as those people who were considered “heroes in the faith” for the confirmands. It was not a choice that was to be made in some simple way, but rather was to be the person who would help and facilitate discernment and growth in faith.