In the first century when Jesus walked the earth in ancient Israel, Jewish men would often become disciples of a rabbi. The rabbi disciple relationship was one of total commitment. The rabbi would commit to instructing the disciple and teach him to be like him. The disciple would commit to listening and learning whatever the rabbi taught, doing what he saw the rabbi doing and obeying all the commands of the rabbi. The disciple would give up the trade work he learned from his own father to follow the rabbi the rest of his life.
This is the relationship Jesus had with the 12 Apostles. The Apostles began to know Jesus more and more over the three years they spent with Him. Slowly, they discovered something they never expected. Something that totally blew their minds and changed their lives forever. Jesus was not just a rabbi. He was not just the Messiah, the Christ. He was actually God Himself, become man. This made their devotion to Him rise to a whole new level. They could not just decide they didn’t like what He was doing or saying, because the Person who was doing and saying these things was not just a man… not just a holy man or a learned man. This person was the Son of God the Father – who we now understand to be the Second Person of the Trinity – Who with the Father and the Holy Spirit… IS God. After Jesus had given the people a hard teaching on the Eucharist many disciples left Him. Jesus asked the Apostles if they would also leave Him. Peter replied, “”Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69).
Jesus explained to the Apostles at the Last Supper that, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:10-11). True joy in life, our life’s meaning and purpose, completely depends on following Jesus’ commandments.
This is not some sort of test or set of arbitrary rules. God is not trying to see if we are willing to jump through all the right hoops to prove our love for Him. Jesus’ commandments are to be understood in two very important ways.
First, they reveal God to us. The commandments of God are rooted in the Truth of God. God is Truth. And His commandments are Truth. So, the commandments of Jesus’ are God revealing Himself to us.
Second, they reveal who God created us to be. We are made in the image and likeness of God. This means we were made with an intellect for knowing truth and a free will to love, similar to God’s intellect and free will. God is Truth and Love, so we were made to know God and love like He does. This is the key to our joy and purpose in life. There is no other way to be fulfilled, to be happy, to be completely satisfied and have perfect peace – except to do what Jesus commands us to do.
Jesus also said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:12-14). Jesus calls us His friends and asks us to lay down our lives for Him. This usually does not mean death all at once, but a day by day, month by month, year by year dying to the things of our earthly lives we struggle to let go of and give up.
There are some easier things in life to let go, but I’d like to address the very difficult ones. People face great challenges when it comes to following Jesus Christ. Money, divorce, contraception, remarriage, homosexuality, premarital sex and many other difficult issues challenge many Catholics. Often people will say that their situation is just to difficult and that they can’t follow the commands of Jesus or they won’t be happy. They will say it’s too much to give up and surely God will understand.
Our Creator, the One who designed us and knows everything about us… the One Who loves us with an infinite and unfathomable love… the One who created us like Himself and for Himself… the One who died for us and tells us He came so that we may “have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10)… This is the God Who tells us that we need to die to our wants and desires of this world and follow His commandments so that our “joy may be full.”
Let’s think about this for a moment… Do we think that Jesus didn’t know how the specific circumstances of our life would play out? Do we think that Jesus meant that we are to obey Him except when doing so is really, really hard? Do we think that the martyrs who chose death rather than deny Christ had it easier than us? Do we think that obeying His Father by willingly going through His passion and death was not really, really hard for Jesus?
I’m not saying that God doesn’t care how hard it is to obey sometimes. I’m saying that because God cares He would not ask this of us if it wasn’t what’s best for us. We should never think that a sin, any sin, is going to be best for us… or is going to make things better. Every sin only hurts our relationship with Jesus, and Jesus IS what is best for us. We NEED Him.
This is not to say we have no recourse when we to fall into sin. We must repent and if serious, go to Confession. A very important distinction is this: it is one thing to know something is wrong, strive to avoid it, but because of weakness fall and choose to sin. It is quite another to know something is wrong, but think that we are exempt from following it because of our circumstances. Or even more dangerous, refuse to believe that evil is evil at all.
And lastly, remember, always remember, our purpose and joy will ultimately be found in Heaven with Jesus. No amount of pleasure, comfort, money or happiness in this life on earth is worth one moment of the immense joy we will experience in Heaven.
“Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-20).