Monday, September 28, 2020

The establishment of friendship is the first step in any evangelizing efforts. Yet so many bypass it, and wonder why their words and works fall on deaf ears.

In our personal lives, friendship plays such an important role.  We only need to look back on our very first establishments of social interactions as tiny tots in the playground or in sand boxes.  It seems as if we were responding to something that was hardwired in our psyches that there is a certain joy and stability that is attained when we can reach out and make a friend.  Probably awkward at first, but once that hurdle is met and overcome, it becomes so natural to take comfort in a familiar face in whose companionship and presence we have brought into our circle of confidence and who has also on their part brought us into their confidence.  From then on, the there seemed to be no limit as to what the two friends can explore together, and the adventures that they can embark on, because the friendship has been established.  Indeed friendship has this kind of power which many appreciate, but often are not able to find the words to explain or describe.

Plato, who lived about 400 years before Christ, and his student Aristotle both had keen appreciation for the goodness that friendship gave to life.  In his his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle says that true friends and true friendship are mirrors to each other, and a “single soul dwelling in two bodies”.  Certainly as Christians, we take that as a very good metaphor of how two people almost become one as they look together toward a common good or a common source of good.  A sacramental Marriage that has two baptized spouses first looking at Christ at the heart of their marriage before loving and serving each other is something that takes this truth to a spiritual level.

Every baptized person is called to live out two things well in life.  The first of course, is the dignity and identity of being a chosen and beloved adopted child of God the most high.  When one is aware of this calling each moment of one’s life, it not only gives a purpose to one’s life, but also a reason to stay the course of being faithful to this divine dignity that was so generously given at the point of baptism.  

The second thing that a baptized person is called to do is to become an ambassador for the faith and when one does this, one lives out the call to be missionary and evangelistic in and by one’s life.  This non-negotiable corollary of baptism’s power to make disciples of all nations is something that many Christians are rather slow on the uptake, for various reasons.  In part this is due to a weak foundation of the faith, and in part it is something that is done not out of conviction, but out of a pure sense of obligation.  When this happens, as it often does, the harvest of the fruit of evangelization is not in the bushel loads, but sadly, in tiny punnets, if at all.

Here is where I think many well-meaning evangelists miss the mark.  If the work of evanglization is seen as being able to speak convincingly about the Good News of the Kerygma only, the very important groundwork of friendship may be overlooked, and this could well be the reason why the fruit of evangelizing is paltry.  

It was Henri Nouwen who said that nobody is shot with a bullet who is not first shot with a word, and nobody is shot with a word who is not first shot with a thought.  He was insightful in seeing that fatal wounding with physical weapons of violence do not come suddenly, but that they have a progression that ends with such fatality and seriousness.  This progression or rather ‘regression’ into violence that can end in death has its genesis in the seemingly non-violent (at least on a physical level) thoughts of a person.  

The opposite is just as true.  

A strong conversion of the heart and mind toward the truth of God in Christ is never something that comes without the necessary preparation of the softening of the heart.  Before the words of the Good News can land well on the ears and hearts of those whom we are bringing God’s message of love, hope and salvation to, the actions of love, hope and salvation need to be seen and encountered.  This can only happen when one starts one’s mission with friendship in mind.  Do you know who knows this well?  Insurance salesmen.  They know that the only way that they can interest you in their product is if they first make you their friend.  Once your heart has softened through friendship, their greatest hurdle is overcome and the gate to your trust (and your savings) is unbolted.

The work of evangelization entails as much heartwork as it does hardwork.  Certainly, we should never become friends just so that we can fulfill our task of becoming missionaries for Christ.  Friendship has an end in itself, and the fruit of friendship is that both parties in the friendship become better persons because of the friendship between them.  It is when the Christ-centered person is aware that his being the best person he can be is primarily because of his friendship and intimacy with Christ, then he will naturally want the same best thing for his friend – not because it will win him any brownie points from God, but because he is living out his identity and dignity that comes from being a beloved child of God.

If our task as spreaders of the word of God is often met with quizzical or incredulous looks, it could be because we had not first started with wanting to establish a good relationship with those we speak the Word of God to.  

It is not enough to speak about the Good News.  We must first be the Good News.

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