St. Francis of Assisi taught his monks that it’s more important to be Jesus than merely worshiping Jesus.
As the story goes, after Francis wrote up his rules and sent it off to Rome for review, it’s rumored that the Pope quickly returned it with a small note attached that said, “This is no rule, it’s just the gospel.”
I can only imagine Francis wanted to reply back with a note of his own, “ Well, Duh!”
The good news is you don’t have to be a monk to know that a gospel-filled life is a good rule to live by. Yet for some reason our brain insists on making it complicated. Because it’s so simple and clean, it seems the only way we can control it is to divide it up into little divisive, right or wrong arguments. Thus obstructing, if not down right killing, the spirit of living in God’s blessing.
As our country stands more divided than ever, I can’t help but wonder what life might be like if we actually practiced what Jesus preached: a gospel life of non-judgmental love, unconditional forgiveness, shameless peace-making and universal reconciliation.
What would it take for us to live intentionally as Jesus lived?
If we can learn anything from Francis, we need to look no further than the gospels; especially the Sermon on the Mount. Beginning with the Beatitudes we see a way of life that is radically different than what the world has to offer. Francis took these words to heart. He believed that if Jesus meant what he said, then he best begin to act accordingly.
Whenever I read the beatitudes, I am often struck with their poetic beauty and at the same time, overwhelmed by their perceived impracticality. I admire the instruction, but I often fear the implications of putting these words into practice.
We live in a time when blessings are reserved for those who succeed, and often at the expense of others. Poverty and meekness seem so unattractive in a culture grounded in competition and fear. It’s easier for us to just dismiss these blessings as impossible challenges for ordinary living. Only the greatest like Francis are up to the saintly task.
Still, Jesus invites us all to live a life that turns our assumptions upside down. And he begins with the beatitudes; offering us three basic principles to how to live intentionally in God’s righteousness: simplicity, hopefulness, and compassion.
When Francis read the Beatitudes, he noticed that the call to be poor stood right at the beginning: “How blessed are the poor in spirit!” He saw poverty as “the foundation and guardian of all other virtues.” Raised in a house of privilege and power, Francis chose to give away all that he possessed. But is Jesus calling you to give away your material wealth? (my kids are nodding their head) Or is it something else?
Jesus main mission was to announce the Kingdom of God has come. And blessed are the poor in spirit…theirs is the kingdom…it’s in the present tense! This is good news for those who believe their cries are going unheard. God has come to relieve you of your burdens. God is ready to give you your heart’s desire. The only catch is you have to let go of those things that keep you from accepting what is being offered: unconditional love and mercy.
This could mean letting go of material wealth, for that brings it set of problems. But it could also mean being humble; a state of being that frees you of the emotional baggage your ego will protect at any cost.
It’s like a coffee mug that has old coffee in it. You don’t want a cold cup coffee, you want a fresh, hot cup. What do you do? You dump out the old coffee into the sink and refill it with new coffee from the pot. It’s that simple. So too is a gospel life. For How blessed are you when your cup is empty; there is more room for God to fill you up again!
A gospel life invites us to let go of the things that stop us from living simply and fully in God’s abundant love and grace. Simplicity is the first principle. The second is hopefulness.
Given all that is happening in the world today, it’s hard for me to find anything good to put my hope in. Cynicism has become the norm. And whole generations have become so numb and apathetic that they accept whatever… regardless of the consequences. Jesus invites us to take the opposite point of view; which is hopefulness.
Francis placed his hope in the one who offered hope to the hopeless and the downtrodden. Like Jesus, he had witnessed how the hands of greed were strangling the poor; holy wars were shedding the blood of the innocent. Like Jesus, Francis went to those who were considered worthless by societies standards. And like Jesus, Francis loved them and cared for them equally; reminding them of their value in the Kingdom of God.
God’s love is here, now, which tells us life as we know it will change forever.
Jesus invites us to live in the presence of the Spirit who protects the meek and persecuted, and provides support for the peacemakers and pure in heart. So when we let go and let God fill our lives, we can stand in the world sure of the possibility that the day will come when mercy, humility, peace, and love are the norm.
Thus, Francis taught his monks that it’s more important to be Jesus than merely worshiping Jesus. We are called to be a mirror of Christ in the world, and to see Jesus in all the work that we do, and in all the people we meet. It will serve us well to treat all people…as if you are serving Jesus Chris himself. I can think anything else that offers the world a lasting future, or hope of a better life.
A simple life, grounded in the hope of Jesus, will free us to live a life of compassion, which is the third principle.
Compassion is the inner recognition that your neighbor shares your humanity with you. It empowers us open the curtains and tears down the walls we’ve built around ourselves, so we can see the Christ within ourselves and in others. Compassion is the great unifier and equalizer. And dare I say, it is still the best peacekeeping weapon ever designed.
In spite of all our shortcomings, Jesus always remained impartial in the way he loves us, as one body with one soul, born out of one love. He knows our wounds and sees our scars. He knows our pain, and the baggage we carry, because he’s walked with us, cried with us, felt our embarrassment, and suffered alongside us. Even when we reject him, he never stops pouring out his love upon us.
This is the life in which we are all called to live; a gospel life of love and forgiveness for all our brothers and sisters. The way of life Jesus calls us to live is truly transformational; able to heal and repair the damage our egos have caused throughout history.
This does not mean there won’t be hardship and difficulties of all different shapes and sizes. When you live counter to culture, you can pretty much anticipate bad things will still happen to good people. But Jesus reminds us:
- how blessed is your life when you run out of things to give others, for God is ready to restock your supply.
- How blessed are you to cry with a friend when they’ve lost what is dear to them, God will give you a heart full of chocolate and tissues.
- And how blessed are you when you are content with just who you are, feasting on life with a ferocious appetite for God’s righteousness, for God will keep the kitchen open.
- How blessed are you to be able to make peace with your enemies, and still smile when people laugh at you for doing so, the saints and angles are applauding you.
How blessed are those who realize that living a gospel life is not irrational at all. Instead, it’s the only truly rational way to live. So you see, you don’t have to be St. Francis, or Mother Teresa or Gandhi to live a gospel life. You just have to be…Jesus.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Franciscan Mysticism: I AM That Which I Am Seeking, disc 3 (CAC: 2012).
Francis of Assisi, “The Later Rule” (1223), chapter 1. See Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 1 (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1999), 100.
Bartlett, David and Barbara Brown Taylor, ed. Feasting on the Word: Year A, Vol. 1. Westminster John Knox Press. (Louisville, 2009). pp. 308-312.