Dr. Seuss wrote, “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”
Moving from being “of the world” to “not of the world” is a surefire way to stand out! Throughout Scripture, Jesus contrasts the path He has laid out with that of the “world”.
“Worldliness” is a state where your entire focus is on your well-being in this life only and not in the life to come. Taken in the extreme, you could be putting your life to come at risk due to maximising your reward in this life. We can each think of people we see in tabloids, magazines and the newspaper that represent this mindset.
Today’s Gospel from John uses pretty intense language when referring to what we can and should expect from “the world” as we progress in our imitation of Jesus:
Whose approval are we after?
Our nature, and our conditioning, has a hard time reconciling with the fact that we may be hated…or perhaps using a less loaded word: approved.
Jesus reiterates that there is a choice – we can’t seek the approval of the world (those living for immediate gratification regardless of the eternal cost) while working for His approval (willingness to suffer and make sacrifices out of love for Him, with the hope of an eternal reward). We must decide which approval we want.
We are made to serve
“A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.” Jesus reminds us that we were made to serve – serving what we discern to be His will, for the coming and glory of His Kingdom. In our service, we seek to imitate Him. If we’re doing a good job of that imitation, learning from His teaching well and putting it into practice, surely we should expect to be received and treated the same way He was.
Which brings us back to that tough picture of hatred and persecution.
Encouragement through rejection
In all of this, Jesus is honing our way-finding skills. We become more sensitive to discerning which path we’re currently on. Are we on the hard path of the narrow gate or the wide & easy road that leads away from Heaven? How well we’re accepted and approved by “the world” vs. rejected (and perhaps even persecuted) is a powerful indicator to which of those roads we may be on.
Are we doing enough for Him? Are we willing to risk provoking this kind of persecution and hatred? This is a very hard message and one we all should take into prayer and reflect on what else He may need us to do – even if it may come at some cost to our reputation, our approval, our acceptance of others.
Do good anyway
There was a poem written on the wall of Saint Teresa’s home for children in Calcutta (we know her still as Mother Teresa) that speaks perfectly to this:
As soon as we’re able to detach from our need for the approval of others (whether they’re people “in the world” or even holy people we know and love), we can start to do the kinds of things Mother Teresa speaks to – being kind, being honest, being happy, doing good – without any fear of what the reception would be…acceptance or hatred, it shouldn’t matter. As it’s not between us and them.
So how do we put all this into practice? To start with – become more aware of your expectations on others surrounding your actions & behaviours. Look for the things you’re doing with some hope or expectation for something in return (approval, feedback, praise, etc.). Try to catch yourself when you’re expecting a response, especially when you’re connecting your own peace & “okay-ness” to what that response is!
Simply identifying where (and how often) this is happening allows you to take it into prayer, asking Him how He’d like you to shift your approach so that you can do the same action solely for him – and keep your peace in the process.
When you feel in touch with what He wants – liberation comes when you can perform those tasks solely for His benefit, regardless of how others react. Whether it’s admiration or hatred, your peace is unaffected.