In our first essay, we talked about the way Jesus wants to give us so much more than the forgiveness of sins and the hope of heaven. We saw how we can become like Jesus. In this essay, we want to look at some of the incredible gifts that Jesus has given us because of his death and resurrection. We want to make sure we aren’t missing out on any of them.
Gift #1: A living relationship. Remember Jesus’ parable about the tax collector and the Pharisee? The Pharisee prayed, “I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income” (Luke 18:11-12). This Pharisee wasn’t a bad Jew. In fact, he was a faithful Jew, but he was using a “checklist” approach to his faith. He was making sure he had done what he thought God expected of him. If he could just meet those requirements, he thought, he would be righteous and pleasing to God.
The tax collector, on the other hand, had a much simpler prayer: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13). He knew that he had offended God. And he begged for forgiveness so that their relationship could be restored.
That’s the key. The Christian life is not about a checklist; it’s about a relationship. We don’t say to our children, “Well, I took you to school today and made sure you did your homework when you got home. And I gave you dinner and put you to bed. I must be a good parent.” As parents, we do all those things, but we do a lot more. We love our children, show them affection, and listen to them. We encourage them, and we show them the right way to live. More than anything else, we pray for them.
So it is with the Lord. Of course we need to obey God’s commands. It’s what it means to be disciples of Jesus, so these are the things we should do. But God wants to have a relationship with us, a relationship that affects us every day. And as our Father, he wants to make it clear that he does much more for us than we could ever do for him!
Just as a husband and wife share what’s on their minds, including their struggles and joys, so God wants us to share with him whatever is on our hearts. He wants us to come to him when we have sinned and receive his mercy. And when we face the many challenges of life, he wants to give us all the grace, peace, and wisdom that we need to deal with them. The Christian life is about a relationship of love. Jesus himself said that he calls us his friends (John 15:14-15), and it is through our friendship with him that we experience his power not only to forgive our sins but to fill us with his joy and his peace, no matter what is going on around us.
Gift #2: A love that empowers us to love. Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan shows us that God wants disciples who reach out to other people in love. The priest and the Levite, both of whom were faithful Jews, passed by a man lying wounded on the side of the road. It was the Samaritan, someone who seemed the least connected to God’s people, whose heart was moved and who took care of the wounded man (Luke 10:29-37). His faith somehow gave him the power to love where others had failed.
Where do we find the strength to love people, including those who are most difficult to love? In the presence of our loving God. We find it at Mass, in Eucharistic adoration, and in the company of good friends. Through all these avenues and so many more, God pours his love into us so that our hearts soften toward other people. Then we feel compelled to share that love with them.
One day while on vacation, Carole took an early morning walk on the beach. As she was praying and thanking God for the beautiful day, she saw another woman by herself some way off. Carole didn’t want to interrupt her prayer, but she sensed God might want her to go over to this woman and start a conversation. Despite her own reluctance, she approached the woman and said hello. As they chatted, the woman shared that she had come to the water’s edge alone to think about some family issues she was struggling with. Carole offered to pray with her. The woman accepted, and before they left, she told Carole, “Now I know why I came here this morning. You are God’s messenger, sent to encourage me!”
Carole was like the Samaritan. She was open to hearing God’s still, small voice asking her to talk to the woman. And God used Carole to let this woman know that he would be with her as she worked out the issues that were troubling her.
Gift #3: Brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus doesn’t just want us to have a relationship with him; he also wants us to have life-giving relationships with one another. These friendships can help us to grow and thrive in our faith and sustain us during difficult times. Of course, it takes some effort to find and build these sorts of connections, but it is a great blessing when it happens!
Jack was a good husband and father who worked hard over the years to provide for his wife and children. Every Sunday he went to Mass with his family, but he didn’t feel as if he had much extra time to get to know his fellow parishioners. Even though he and his wife sat in the same section of the church every week, Jack still couldn’t recall most of their names when it came time for the sign of peace.
That all changed when a neighbor invited him to a weekly breakfast that some of the men in the parish were beginning. Jack decided to go along out of a sense of obligation. But what began as a onetime visit grew into a weekly commitment that he rarely missed. Jack appreciated the way the men were able to talk about faith and prayer, as well as football and parenting issues. New friendships began to develop, and he began to feel more at home at Mass because he would often see his new friends there. Because of them, his parish felt more like a home than an organization.
A few months later, Jack’s wife was diagnosed with cancer. “It was a difficult but blessed time,” he recalls. It was difficult because of the sadness of seeing his wife struggle and eventually succumb to her illness. But it was also blessed because of the support he received from his new friends. They helped organize meals for Jack and his wife, and they began to pray with him for God’s strength and comfort.
“I felt as if God was loving me through these men,” he said. “I really miss my wife, but I don’t feel as if I’m left on my own. I have this group, and I have my parish. These guys have become true brothers in Christ, and their friendship has helped me face the grief and loneliness with faith rather than anger. I am so grateful that I’m not walking alone.”
In many ways, our faith is personal. God loves us as unique individuals. But our faith is also communal. We are all members of the Church, the body of Christ. We are all part of a people God has called to himself. Even more, our friendship with Christ has brought us into the communion of love that exists within the Trinity. It’s this communion that helps us enjoy deep friendships with one another.
When we think back on our own lives, it was often another person who was the catalyst for our own deeper commitment to the Lord. Maybe the way they spoke about Jesus and his love made us think that there was more to our faith than we realized. Or maybe they invited us to Mass or a prayer meeting or Bible study. As we got to know them, our lives began to change. We realized that we could have a closer friendship with Jesus. Maybe we’ve helped others realize that as well.
So Much More. God has so much more in store for us than we can ever imagine. He wants to have a relationship with us. He wants his love to impact us so much that we share that love with the people around us. He even gives us brothers and sisters in Christ whose friendship and example can spur us on to greater faith and trust in him. As we reflect on Jesus’ resurrection during this glorious Easter season, let’s try to embrace all of these gifts. Let’s open ourselves to the divine life that Jesus came to give us.