Free At Last
Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it
Mark 10:2-16 or 10:2-12
There is the wonderful story of a group of loyal Churchwomen who were going to a pilgrimage by boat. A great storm arose, capsizing the ship, and everyone on board was drowned. The group was greeted at the pearly gates by St. Peter who said, “I’m sorry, ladies, but heaven is filled to capacity. You will have to wait below until our new wing is completed.” There was a loud chorus of disappointment. Then, as the women began to murmur among themselves about the unfairness of it all, one of them said, “Let’s be reasonable. Let us remember the Lord’s Prayer we said so often together: ‘Thy Will be done!’ All our adult lives we’ve been trusting in God’s Will. This may be the final test.” So the women were ushered into hell. Three weeks later, an angry Satan called St. Peter and demanded that the women be taken up to Heaven. “But we still have housing problems,” Peter explained. Satan roared, “That’s nothing compared to the problems they are creating down here. What with their rummage sales, bake sales and bazaars, they are only fifty dollars short of air-conditioning this place.”
“Thy Will be done” is not only the heart of the Lord’s Prayer, it is also the very center of religion. To help deepen your understanding of “Thy Will be done,” picture yourself for a few moments under the bright Mediterranean sun, shining out of a clear blue sky. You walk into a little garden through an iron gate. There are flowers all around, but you don’t notice them at first because your eyes center on the trees in the garden. They are olive trees and they are very old. If you should walk up to one of the trees and try to embrace it, your arms would not reach half way around. (Experts tell us that many of these trees were growing there two thousand years ago.) The leaves of the trees are silver at the top and green at the bottom. The slightest breeze sets the trees to life and there is a shimmering effect that prompts you to say to yourself, “The trees are praising God with their beauty.” This is the Garden of Gethsemane as you can visit it today at the foot of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. It is maintained by the brothers of St. Francis as a place of pilgrimage for Christians. It is a wonderful place to walk, to sit and just to think quietly about what many are convinced is the most important prayer ever uttered because it clearly reveals the secret life of Jesus. We discover the secret of Jesus’ life in his passionate, expectant, unconditional giving of Himself to the Will of God. At every moment of his life, in every experience, He gave Himself in unconditional obedience to the Will of God.
When He was twelve-years-old, standing among the learned men in the temple, He expressed surprise that His parents didn’t understand this. “How is it that you sought Me?” he asked. “Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?” (Lk. 2:49). From then on, His complete devotion to the Father’s Will traces through the Gospels like a golden thread. Finally, in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the last night of His life, it came to its climax. Everything was on the line, so to speak — not only His life, but the destiny of humanity. The Gospel writers tell us of Jesus’ great agony as He prayed over what remained for Him to do in carrying out His Father’s Will. There was good reason for Jesus to be in anguish on the eve of His torture and execution. But we need to understand that Jesus did not agonize in the garden because he was less than totally committed to the Will of God. On the contrary, Jesus understood that obedience to the Father’s Will was the source of the strength and nourishment he needed to fulfill his life’s purpose. “My food is to do the Will of Him who sent Me,” He had said to his disciples (Jn. 4:34). Because He knew this so fully He struggled mightily, in Gethsemane, to be certain that, in every way, He really was doing God’s Will.
“Thy Will be done.” We have no theological or semantical problems with these words. We know what they mean. It is perfectly clear. The problem for us is one of motivation. It is the problem of putting the words into effect. And this is where the great secret of the life of Jesus becomes meaningful for us. It is not easy to put this into words, but what I am suggesting is that many of us make the tragic mistake of thinking of obedience to God’s Will in terms of obligation — something we ought to do. There are people who come to Church out of a sense of obligation: “It’s Sunday morning and I have to go to Church.” There are people who carry the heavy burden of obligation into even their closest relationships: “I have to set a good example for the children … I really don’t want to but I know I have to forgive him …” — and so on. To one degree or another, we are those people.
A man who had been on a two-day spiritual retreat said, “I came back feeling more refreshed and renewed than I usually do after a two-week vacation.” Of course he did! On the two-day retreat he was seeking to know and do God’s Will, and this was His food. This was the way God could nourish him and strengthen him and give him life.
You can see this in the “Confessions of St. Augustine,” which he wrote after he became a Christian. He knew there were certain things in his life he had to change. He had to break off from a destructive relationship. He had to change many of the patterns of his life, his attitude toward life. In the “Confessions,” you find him struggling with these concerns, one-by-one. And it is an agonizing process because of his attachment to the fun and pleasure of his old life that he would have to abandon. But when he finally does give himself over, fully and freely, to the Will of God, he discovers to his amazement that he is experiencing real joy and real fulfillment for the first time in his life.
In today’s Gospel Lesson, Jesus has been preaching to the crowds and many of the people are bringing their children to Him, so that He might touch them. When the disciples try to “shoo” them away, Jesus rebukes them. “Let the children come to Me, do not hinder them,” He says, “for to such belongs the Kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mk. 10:14-15). What was Jesus saying?
In order to understand this we must begin with the reality of God’s love for us. God created us out of love. He loves us infinitely, unconditionally and eternally. We don’t earn His love. We can’t buy His love. We don’t receive it as a reward for meeting certain obligations or performing certain duties. Our part is to accept His love trustingly. Our part is to stake our whole life on the reality that we are loved by a Gracious God whose Word is truth; that God does not tell us lies; that God would never betray us or abandon us. He loves us so much that He promises to fulfill the longing we have in our inmost soul for wholeness of life, lasting happiness, eternal happiness. He loves us so much He promises us that our finite minds cannot even begin to grasp the beauty and the joy of the life He is calling us into. But that isn’t all! He gives us, in the clearest terms, the guidance and direction we need to enter into His Kingdom. The Great God Almighty, Creator and Sustainer of all of life, is asking us to do it His way, according to His Divine wisdom. Again, the secret of Jesus’ life: Thy Will be done!
In today’s Lesson, therefore, Jesus is telling us that only the spirit of childlike, unconditional trust in God’s promise to fulfill us in His life of love can liberate us from the heavy burden of obligation that hangs like a dark cloud over our religious experience.
Until we want to draw ever closer to the God of Love, we have yet to encounter Him in our inmost soul. Until we want to draw ever closer to our brothers and sisters in Christ, we have yet to encounter them at any deep level of our being. Love cannot be forced. Love cannot be coerced. We need to trust God enough to be able to break through the grim attitude of “oughtness” so that we may freely partake of our food which is to do the Will of Him who sent us.
It is in the doing that we discover this freedom. In the Eighth Chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus says to the Jews who believed in Him, “If you continue in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn. 8:32).
Only in the doing of God’s Will can we come to any deep understanding of the meaning of those words. Only in the doing of God’s Will can we rejoice in the liberating Power of Love.