We are to be the reality in the midst of the dark and tempting unreality of the world.
It is a bold and courageous life that we are called to live as Christians. To be a disciple, a true follower of Jesus Christ is not easy. We are called by Jesus himself to preach the gospel message to the world with our lives, not just with words, but by the way we live with and for others, yes even those who oppose us. We cannot sugarcoat the reality either. It can be dangerous to live as Jesus commands us to live, especially in a world that grows more delusional, more faithless, and more enamored with the things of the world.
When his hour had come, Jesus prayed to the Father for his disciples. He prays for us today saying, “Holy Father…I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world” (Jn 17: 15). You may have heard it more familiarly as “We are to be in the world but not of it.” This is a central wisdom that we must become familiar with and understand. When Jesus speaks of the world in this way, he is not speaking against the divinely created beauty of this earth, but of the world broken and darkened by human rebellion in all of its forms. He is referring to this world that is governed by human selfishness, greed, hatred, and fear.
John, in writing to Christian communities in his First Letter, chapter 2, admonishes them to focus on the fact that their sins have been forgiven in Jesus’ name. He reminds the fathers that they have “known him who is from the beginning”, and the young men that they “have conquered the evil one… because you are strong [in your faith], and to the children he says, “You know the father” (vs. 13-14). When we read this, we are challenged to remember these things too. We are Christians for a reason, not in name only.
John then admonishes those Christian communities, and us, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world the love of the Father is not in him” (v.15). But he does not leave it there. He goes on to explain why, which is as true today as it was then. “For all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life is not from the Father but is from the world” (v. 16). As the English poet William Wordsworth wrote, The world is too much with us:/ late and soon,/ Getting and spending: we lay waste our powers;/ Little we see in Nature that is ours;/ We have given our hearts away,/ a sordid boon…”
In our times, the assault of the things of the world is constant, every present and powerful. Its appeals and its lies are constantly with us. It is there every time we go to our cell phones in an effort to stem off the threat of boredom, or loneliness. It is there with us on our TVs, or singing its siren songs to us in our ear buds even when we go for a walk. It makes nature, or silent time in prayer, seem not as fruitful, or appealing, or as entertaining as the latest popular music fashion, or the latest podcast, or the political talk show that fits one’s particular worldly point of view. This world takes our eyes, our ears, our hearts, and our attention away from God with its constant noise and appeals to our desires for immediate gratification. To be of the world is to be out of touch with God and the means to our salvation.
This, then, is the wisdom behind Jesus’ prayer for us and John’s words of council to us in this passage. We are to be the reality in the midst of the dark and tempting unreality of the world. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are to bring the light of Christ into the darkness of the world, not to settle into the darkness and to lose our very selves. “What good will it be to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? What can anyone give in exchange for their soul” (Mt. 16:26). Let us pray always for the graces we need to walk in His ways this day and all those yet to come. Amen.