Joy and Hope
May 3, 2008
How do we remain in Jesus?
When I first came to Sacramento, I informed my co-workers that I hoped to visit the correctional facilities for both adults and youth. This intention sprung from the experiences I had in Orange County doing much the same.
I would like to share with you one such occasion. Some time ago, I made a visit to the Joplin Youth Camp. This is a detention facility of young criminal offenders located in the southeastern region of Orange County. I was there to spend time with the young men, sing some songs, pray with them and answer their questions.
We sat around a circle, began with a prayer, and then they began to ask me different questions. Each boy wore a different color shirt depending on the length of time he was there and his conformity to the rules of the camp: blue, maroon, yellow, red and green. I was surprised by the serious and thoughtful nature of their questions to me: How did I know there really was a God? If God existed why did he allow bad things to happen to people? Does God listen to our prayers? Why does he allow us to make bad choices?
These were not theoretical questions for these young boys. They were struggling with the questions because of the uncertainty of their lives. The answers about God’s existence, the existence of evil in the world, and whether God listened and cared about their prayers, made a difference to them personally.
These were young boys, 13 to 17. Many of them already had the ingrained mannerisms of gang members. I am sure some of it was done to impress me as well as their other fellow detainees. What did impress me was that they were too young to behave that way. Their manner was incongruent with their age. This and the serious nature of their questions unsettled me as it should all of us. Not that the serious questions were inappropriate but that their minds and hearts were so riddled with doubt and uncertainty.
I did not know much about the crimes or offenses that brought them to this place nor did I find out much about their families. I know enough not to be too quick to judge either those young boys or their families. It is enough to say that it is a tragedy. Most probably, the necessary consequence of their actions but still a tragedy that young lives should become so mixed up.
As I wound my way through the canyons back to the freeway, I found myself pondering about my own life and how I have been blessed. I am certain this is what many people must do when they leave Joplin. Whether it is Joplin, or any other jail facility that I visit, I am always able to leave.
The circumstances into which I was born, the decisions I have made, and the many decisions that were made for me or about me have afforded me many blessings that have made the answers to those questions posed by the young boys much easier for me to understand and embrace: God does exist. He does love me enough to listen to me and care for me. Even in the tough times, the dark and doubtful times, there has always been glimmer of faith and an ounce of trust that has carried me through. But even these beliefs, shaped and refined by years of seminary study and reflection, are still gifts that were given and not gained by any effort of mine.
In the 15th chapter of the Gospel according to John, the Lord Jesus speaks to his disciples, then and now, using the beautiful metaphor of the vine and the branches to explain how deep is his relationship, his communion with all of us: “Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.” (Jn. 15. 4)
“Remain in me, as I remain in you” Jesus tells us. How do we remain in Jesus? We must first notice that remaining with Christ, being with Christ, is defined by the statement that follows, “as I remain in you.” The Lord Jesus remains with us. He chose our humanity in order to dwell among us. He became one like us in all ways but sin. He assumed the manners, language, habits, and customs of his time and used them as instruments of his wisdom and grace.
We know the Lord and the Father who sent him because his divinity was communicated through his humanity, a humanity he shares with us. In his time, the Lord Jesus prayed with his disciples, he shared meals with them, walked together on many a journey with them. He worked with them. He met them on the seashore, in the marketplace, and in their synagogues. He took those ordinary and routine moments to be occasions for revealing the love and mercy of his heavenly Father.
We remain with the Lord Jesus when we choose to weave the Lord’s ways into our ways, when his customs and habits become part of our daily rhythm and routine. To remain in Christ we must be disciples who pray with the Lord, share meals with him, walk with him on our journeys, and work with him. We must be ready to meet him in the marketplace, the workplace, the classroom, the parish church and most especially in the sacred place of our homes. In this way, the Lord continues to bring his extraordinary grace into the ordinary routine of our human habits. As he shared in our humanity so we can come to share in his divinity.
As we approach the happy holiday, Mother’s Day, we acknowledge the noble Christian vocation of motherhood and the irreplaceable role of parents in bringing the ways and manners of Christ into the ordinary human routines of family and home. Let us recognize that there is no task so mundane or routine, so ordinary that cannot be an occasion of grace, a moment that binds us closer to the Lord Jesus so that we remain in him as he remains in us.