According to Facebook’s intrepid “On This Day” feature, I know that two years ago, I quoted this line from Pope Francis’ Apostolic exhortation on the proclamation of the Gospel called Evangelii Gaudium, “The Joy of the Gospel”
“The Church and theology exist to evangelize, and [can] not be content with a desk-bound theology.” p. 107
I am still fully a believer in these wise words from the Pontiff, however, as I read the Gospel lesson for Sunday, I am keenly aware that while Jesus hoped to inaugurate the Kingdom of God to all of Creation, but that his message was highly problematic and not necessarily in tune with an easy evangelistic method. That is, from time to time, Jesus drew large crowds, but by and large, his core following, those who were willing to take on the cost of discipleship, was much, much smaller.
Last Sunday, we heard the story of Jesus raising the son of the Widow at Nain. As he approached the town, Luke tells us that Jesus was followed by his disciples and “a large crowd.” At the gate of Nain, they were met by “a considerable crowd,” and both saw him perform his miracle of resurrection. From there, news spread about him throughout Judea and “all the surrounding countryside.” Hundreds, and maybe thousands, of people saw Jesus raise a young man from death, and yet by this Sunday, just a few days later, Luke tells that the crowd following Jesus included only the twelve and some women.
True discipleship is difficult. It isn’t sexy, it doesn’t draw huge crowds, but it is the other side of the coin in the Gospel imperative. As we invite people to follow Jesus, it will include moments of massive transformation like raising the widow’s son as well as moments of deep unease like watching the woman of the city wash Jesus’ feet with her tears. That might bring dwindling crowds, in the short term, but eventually, people are drawn to transformation, and the life giving love of God.