Tim Staples, author of Behold Your Mother, says people today have forgotten that Jesus asks radical things of his followers. Is this idea too dangerous for modern consumption?
Cy Kellett: Does Jesus want you to be a radical? Tim Staples, next on Catholic Answers Focus.
Cy Kellett: Hello and welcome to Catholic Answers Focus. I am Cy Kellett, your host and well Jesus, what did he want from us? Did he want us to be just the nice people that we’re trying our best to be or did he want something more from us? And I suppose that’s connected to what he has to offer us as well. And here to discuss all of that is the Director of Apologetics and Evangelization here at Catholic Answers, Tim Staples. Hello Tim.
Tim Staples : Hello Cy Kellett, great to be with you as always.
Cy Kellett: And with you, but radical, that doesn’t sound good. We’re always hearing about how people got radicalized and it never is after something good.
Tim Staples: That is true. And yet we’re titling this “Jesus’ Radical Call to Discipleship.” And you know what I really think is crucial. This is a crucial message for our Catholic culture today for Christian culture in general and is what is desperately needed in the culture at large.
Tim Staples: And that is a presentation of Jesus Christ, pure and simple, the way he called us in the first century versus all of the different versions we give today. You know, “Jesus is so nice and he loves you so much. He just loves you just the way you are.” Well, and of course, Jesus loves his just the way we are, but he loves us too much to allow us to stay there. Jesus calls us to radical conversion because ultimately, Cy, that’s the only way to get to heaven. You don’t get to heaven, you know, gee, disturbing words from our Lord. In Revelation 3:16 he says, “Be hot or cold. If you’d be lukewarm, I will vomit you out of my mouth.” That doesn’t sound good.
Cy Kellett: That doesn’t sound very nice.
Tim Staples: Isn’t it something how in in that text, Jesus indicates he prefers the cold to the lukewarm. Because at least with the cold, there’s the hope of them turning in their need. “Ah, I’m freezing. I need to be warmed up.” But the lukewarm are very dangerous because they think they’re fine. Just the way they are. See to me, Cy, one of the most important messages that we need today… you forget about the Christian culture, but in the Catholic Church is “Wake up.” Jesus really does call us to radical conversion because when that happens, when folks actually respond to the call of Jesus, man, you’re going to have no longer the problem with getting volunteers. Oh man, we can’t get volunteers at the parish. We can’t get anybody to teach RCIA. We can’t get them to do this or that. You know why? One of the reasons is because they don’t know Jesus.
Cy Kellett: Ah, yes. Right.
Tim Staples: You know, I look at all the Catholic divorce now. It’s hardly different between the Catholics and the world. Well, yeah, because so many don’t know Jesus. That’s what I wanted to focus on here.
Cy Kellett: Well, okay, so if I can go to the radicalization that we’re familiar with, usually they mean a person became a radical. They became radically attached to say, white supremacy or a jihadi Islam or something like that, and that the cure for this is to return people to a kind of state of middle-class, secular tranquility. See what I’m saying?
Tim Staples: That’s right.
Cy Kellett: But you’re proposing no, that’s not going to do the job, what we really need is a different kind of radicalism.
Tim Staples: That’s right. The Western response is, you know, “Let’s give him porn,” you know.
Cy Kellett: “That’ll calm him down!” It saps you of your humanity in a way.
Tim Staples: Unfortunately though, this is true. This is how warped our mindset is in the West. Well, Jesus has the ultimate answer. Now, let me give you three examples of what I mean, right in that Bible of ours.
Cy Kellett: Okay.
Tim Staples : One is found in Luke 9:57 through 9:61, and we all know the story: A man comes to Jesus, says, “Lord, I want to follow you wherever you go.” Right? And Jesus, what does he do? He says, “Oh, well all you have to do is say the sinner’s prayer.” We’ll get your tithing envelopes, and you’re ready to go. Right?
Cy Kellett: You’re tithing envelopes. I like that part.
Tim Staples :You know, that’s what I’d have done as an Assembly of God youth minister. Absolutely. But Jesus didn’t get that memo because what does Jesus say? He challenges the man who has come to him and says, “I want to follow you.” He answers with a challenge. “Foxes have holes. Birds have nests. The son of man hath not a place to lay his head.” Wow, Jesus. You didn’t read the book, How To Win Friends And Influence People because that’s not the way you treat somebody who’s saying he wants to follow you. You thank them. You offer them a red carpet, right? No, Jesus says in essence, “I don’t even have place to lay my head.” The implication being, if you follow me, the same might await you. This is a challenge. Are you sure you’re absolutely committed?
Tim Staples: And then another man comes and says, “Lord, I want to follow you, but first let me go bury my father.” Now, that’s a reasonable request, Cy. You’d think Jesus would say, “I’m so sorry to hear of your loss, yeah, take the time you need.” No, that’s not what we hear from Jesus. Jesus says, “Let the dead bury their dead.” Oh my goodness. Jesus needs sensitivity training, Cy.
Cy Kellett: That is a very insensitive thing, you’re right.
Tim Staples : There is a a serious problem here, right? “Let the dead bury their dead. Come thou and follow me.” Now of course there’s profound implications here. Jesus is here revealing his divinity because nothing and no one can come before him because he is almighty God. He is not just a prophet. This is a powerful revelation here that we would all do well to heed, but look at it on its face. This is Jesus saying to this man, “Yes, I know you’re hurting and such, but what’s most important for you is to give everything and follow me and to put nothing and no one before me.”
Tim Staples: And then a third person comes. “Lord, I want to follow you, but first let me go back to the house and say goodbye to the folks.” Right? (Now, that’s a Tim Staples translation.) And what does Jesus say? “No man putting his hand in the pile and looking back is fit for the Kingdom of Heaven.” Now that’s a-
Cy Kellett: That’s a hard one.
Tim Staples: It is. And it’s also a reference scripture scholars tell us back to the call of Elisha, if you remember when Elijah was called Elisha, Elisha said, “Let me go back and take care of the family and the farm.” Because remember, he was plowing. And Elijah says, “Yes, go take care and then come and follow me.” So Jesus is here telling us in a very sublime way, someone greater than Elijah is here.
Cy Kellett: Oh yeah.
Tim Staples: Almighty God. But the consistent theme, and we see this throughout the Gospels, is Jesus asks for absolute surrender. “Come and follow me.” Think of the… one more. The Syrophoenician woman in Matthew Chapter 15 who has a daughter who’s grievously vexed with a demon, comes to Jesus, “Please heal my daughter.” Jesus answers her, not a word, he just keeps walking. She cries all the more after him. Now I’m skipping some parts here for for time’s sake. She cries all the more after him. And then this time he says, “I’m not come but for the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” He apparently, or it appears, rejects her a second time. “I’m not coming for you.” And she’s crying, “But, but,” and then he keeps walking and she cries out all the more. And what does Jesus… I mean, you think, all right, third time he’s going to say, “I’m so sorry.” But she cries out all the more and this time He says, “It’s not right to take the food from the children and give it to dogs.” Now he calls her a dog and what does she do?
Tim Staples: She acknowledges that. She says, “Yes, Lord.” Saint Francis of Assisi said, “Unless we all understand we are the pups begging for morsels from the master’s table, we will never find the Lord.” Because that is where salvation begins. She says, “Yes, Lord, but even the pups eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.” That’s what’s sparked our Lord to say, “I’ve not found such a great faith here.” Right?
Cy Kellett: Yeah. Right.
Tim Staples: Actually, he doesn’t say that there. He says that an elsewhere, but he means it in his heart because what does he say? “Your daughter is healed. Great is your faith.” And her daughter was healed from that moment. Now, of course, Jesus wanted to heal her and heal her daughter from the start. But the bottom line is he is eliciting, through these radical statements, absolute surrender. And that’s what the God… one last one, Luke Chapter 13:1 through 13:6, we have the apostles, disciples come to Jesus saying, “Lord, did you hear Pontius Pilate is mingling the blood of Jews with the evening sacrifice.” Now this is radical stuff here, Cy. I mean, Pilate was killing Jews, mixing their blood with the pagan sacrifices. Pilate was a monster, my friends, right? So you’d think Jesus.. now, no doubt the folks were zealots. They wanted Jesus to say, “Let’s take up arms, man. We’re going to do something about this.”
Cy Kellett: Yeah. The time has come. Enough is enough.
Tim Staples: But his response, to say it was disarming. I mean, imagine all the fervor and such. “What are we going to do?” And Jesus says, “Do you think these were sinners above all other Galileans who had these things happen to them? I say to you, no, but unless you repent, the same thing’s going to happen to you.” Wow. Can you imagine the….
Cy Kellett: “Whaaaaat?”
Tim Staples: The jaw hangs open? What did he just say? In other words, he constantly, in the midst of difficult situations, “I want to follow you, but my dad died.” “I want to follow you, but let me go say goodbye.” “My daughter is vexed with a demon.” Right? These are serious situations. Here now people are being killed, they’re being martyred, and he brings them all back to what’s most important and that is radical commitment to him. Almighty God come in the flesh. And then Jesus adds another part. He says, “Or consider those 18 upon whom the tower in Siloam fell.” Do you think…that was Jesus’ own…He said, “Hey, I read the newspaper here.” Right? “What about those 18 upon whom the tower fell? Do you think they were sinners above all others?No, they weren’t, but unless you repent, the same thing will happen to you.”
Tim Staples: I would suggest to you, Cy, in our Catholic culture at large, we need mission preachers. We need priests to stand in pulpits. We need apologists to do it too. And anyone who gets a chance to speak to anyone as a Catholic. We need to challenge people to radical commitment to Jesus Christ because ultimately a lot of the things that we spend all our time trying to help people with, ailments, and, “Oh yeah, I’m hurting here and this or that,” will actually be settled by radical commitment to Jesus Christ. It’s not as though this is the end-all be-all. It’s not, but it’s the beginning.
Cy Kellett: But don’t you think or do you think that a lot of us don’t do it? We don’t make that radical call to others either because we’ve been tepid in our response and we’re really not so sure-
Tim Staples : Amen.
Cy Kellett: -or we actually think, well, they’ll probably be disappointed. I mean, you know, like “Jesus isn’t… he’s not going to heal them.” We really don’t have the faith to go, “Yeah, turn it all over to Jesus and magnificent, wonderful transformations will happen to you.”
Tim Staples : Can I tell you a Father Vincent Serpa story?
Cy Kellett: Yeah.
Tim Staples : Years ago when, obviously, Father Vincent was our chaplain as well as apologist, I remember I had a young evangelical minister that I was in a back and forth with for a long time, and he was struggling because, I’ll tell you, we were at lunch and this young man, three young kids, he’s a pastor of an evangelical community. And I was talking to him about the Blessed Mother of all things. And he burst into tears. He dropped his head in his hands and he said, I quote, “Oh my God, Tim, this stuff is true. What am I going to do?”
Cy Kellett: Right, right.
Tim Staples : And you know what? At that moment I remember thinking, oh my gosh, you know, if he leaves his community, he’s leaving his paycheck, his pension, his-
Cy Kellett: So now you’re worried for him.
Tim Staples : That’s right. And he’s got three small kids and this and that. I hemmed and hawed and got back to the apologetics and such. I talked in spiritual direction with Father Serpa about that. And Father Serpa kind of slapped me.
Cy Kellett: Yeah.
Tim Staples : And he said, “You know what, Tim?” He said, “The same Holy Spirit that brought tears to that young man’s eyes and brought him to that place is the same Holy Spirit that’s going to bring him all the way home and take care of his kids and every other situation. Your job is to proclaim the Gospel.” And I shrunk in my seat. I was like, “Oh my gosh, Father Serpa just hit me with what I hit other people with all the time.
But I didn’t live in a real life situation.” But you know what? That young man is Catholic.
Cy Kellett: Praise God.
Tim Staples : And you know what? God did take care of those three kids. Yes, he lost his position. He had to get a job with a philanthropic organization, took a pay cut and everything else, but he is a happy, happy man today. That conversation continued, but the bottom line was this: sometimes it’s out of respect for persons, it’s out of a genuine and I think misguided, in my case certainly, a misguided sense of love and compassion because look, we know that it’s a hard road that lies ahead and so there’s a real sympathy and empathy in our hearts, but what we have to do is order our lives toward the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that we alone possess as Catholics; not our feelings, our sentiments. We cannot fall to a sentimentality that leads us away from the Gospel.
Cy Kellett: Well, what about the person who accepts the radical call to follow Jesus but sees it primarily as engaging in culture war, or engaging in, “I’m going to be the truth teller, come what may,” and misses out on that part that you always remind us about it. Very annoyingly, I have to say. That if it’s not about loving your neighbor, forget it.
Tim Staples: Amen.
Cy Kellett: It’s pointless.
Tim Staples: I think we just read that in the Gospel this past Sunday, didn’t we? “Love one another as I have loved you,” John Chapter 13:34, which was in the heart of the Gospel reading this past Sunday. That is the most radical call possible right there. Love one another. Not just love one another with that sentimentality of, “I don’t want to upset you. You’ve got three small children.”
Tim Staples: No, it’s “Love one another as I have loved you.” It’s loving enough to love like Jesus did. And you know what Jesus did? He said, “Let the dead bury their dead. You come and follow me.” That’s love, Cy. That’s love, to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Somehow, our sort of absolute destruction of the term love, it’s been so watered down that it’s the wimpy version of the nice Jesus that would never challenge anyone. That’s what has been misinterpreted as love and that’s why my friend, I believe, in our popular culture, people have lost a sense of what love is and don’t even believe in love anymore. A love that will die for you.
Cy Kellett: While you’re speaking there, a thought came to me. I want to run this by you now, that the part of the idea that our society is willing to do all kinds of things like be part of a movement or go to a march or that kind of thing, and the same society says “It really doesn’t matter what you do in your private life.” It might be because love actually requires you to change your private life, or you’re not going to be able to love. But being in a movement, yeah, you can go march, you can throw rocks, you can do whatever without that. So that the radical call isn’t just to public expressions, but our private life is related to that.
Tim Staples: Amen. An essential part of the call is the ordinary time. Most of the liturgical year we spend in Ordinary Time, don’t we? Because it’s the ordinary time…In fact, it’s the time when nobody’s looking. That’s the hidden years of our Blessed Lord is what led to Cana in John Chapter two and it’s the same thing in our lives. It’s what we do when nobody’s looking that’s going to determine how we react when real situations arise in our lives. Real crises. A kid is sick, cancer, whatever it may be, you’re able to respond. Why? Jesus said it: “If you’re faithful in the little things, you’ll be faithful in the big things,” but when you’re not faithful in the little things, and these are not so little, when we’re talking about love. We’re talking about not only the stuff we do when nobody’s looking, but also it’s loving your neighbor. It’s like-
Cy Kellett: Your actual neighbor. Not in theory, but-
Tim Staples: The guy living next door.
Cy Kellett: The persons who’s a pain in the neck to you.
Tim Staples: Yeah, that’s right. I mean that is real Christianity, isn’t it? “Oh, but I want to go to India and proclaim the Gospel.” Do you love your wife and kids? Do you love your neighbor? Do you go out of your way to love? And what is love but to prefer or will the good of the other? That has to be what we are about as Christians because that is what Jesus Christ was all about. In fact, that’s what God is. 1 John 4:8: “God is love.”
Cy Kellett: So whatever we’re saying to ourselves, “You know what, I will follow you Lord, as soon as I get this done, as soon as this is taken care of, I get the kids through college or I get this business established or whatever.” You’re saying no, it’s deeper than that. More radical.
Tim Staples: Absolutely. It’s a matter of dropping everything you think of the the rich young man in Matthew 19:16 right? “What must I do to have everlasting life?” No doubt we can be exactly the rich young man. “What must I do?” But in the back of our minds, we’re saying what we won’t do right?
Cy Kellett: That’s exactly right.
Tim Staples: “Just don’t let it…Don’t let it be that. Anything else.”
Cy Kellett: How can you see in the back of my mind? That’s exactly it.
Tim Staples: That’s it. “But what must I do?” And of course he says “Keep the commandments.” “Whew,” says the rich young man. Right? “I’m doing that one.” “Oh, one more thing. Give everything to the poor. Follow me.” He walked away sad. And ultimately that is the call of the Gospel. The Gospel is more than keeping the commandments. That’s what the Sermon on the Mount is all about. It’s more than keeping the commandments. It’s love. It’s going beyond what human nature is capable of doing, and that is loving one another, “as I have loved you,” says Jesus.
Cy Kellett: Tim Staples. Thank you very much.
Tim Staples: This was too much fun.
Cy Kellett: Yeah, the Gospel is a radical call. It’s always good to be reminded of it and it’s always a little bit painful to be reminded of it, frankly.
Tim Staples: Amen.
Cy Kellett: All right. Well, thank you for joining us on Catholic Answers Focus this time. Again, I’m Cy Kellett, your host, and if you will, if you’re listening to this on, say, iTunes an Android device, if you would give us a like or a thumbs up or whatever happens there, or maybe even a comment and share this podcast with others, we’d be very, very grateful. That’s what helps it grow. This is Catholic Answers Focus and we’ll see you next time.