He Wants to Be With You

Homily for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B.

What question are you most afraid to ask Jesus? For me, the question has always been, “What do you want me to do, Lord?” It’s a terrifying question because, well…what if the Lord answers? What if the Lord asks me to do something that I don’t want to do? Or what if I don’t have what it takes to do what He’s asking me to do?

Similar fears may have been behind the disciples’ reluctance to question Jesus after He told them about His impending death. Jesus tells them in our gospel, “‘The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.’ But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him.” We can imagine the disciples in this scene slowly pulling back from Jesus, letting Him walk ahead and by Himself, in order to hash out among themselves what Jesus was talking about. It says in our gospel that Jesus was making this journey through Galilee secretly, clandestinely, as if He were already a hunted man. Coupled with Jesus’ cryptic words about being handed over and killed, the disciples may have put two and two together, and thought that any minute guards might come out of nowhere and arrest Jesus and perhaps themselves.

Afraid of this happening, we can imagine the disciples slowing down even more in order to put even greater distance between themselves and Jesus. Then, if guards did come to arrest Jesus, they could play dumb: “Oh no, we’re not following that man. Does it look like we’re following Him? We’re a whole twenty feet behind him; we just happen to be traveling on the same road.” Now at a safe distance from Jesus, they can gossip about what He just said. At a safe distance, they no longer talk to Jesus, but about Him. And eventually their conversation leads them to talking about themselves, and who among them is the greatest.

There are many reasons why we might be afraid to ask Jesus a question. Perhaps we’re afraid that He won’t answer us, perhaps we’re afraid that He will. But regardless, whenever we’re afraid to ask Jesus a question, we invariably pull back from Him. We might talk to other people about Him, but we no longer talk to Him. We ask other people about our question, but not the Lord Himself.

When I finally plucked up the courage to ask Jesus, “What do you want me to do, Lord?” I eventually did get an answer, though it took a little while. I remember finally asking this question my freshman year in college. And then I kept asking it every time I went to pray. “What do you want me to do, Lord?” “What do you want me to do, Lord?” “What do you want me to do, Lord?” I was kind of like the kid in the backseat of the car that keeps asking, “Are we there yet?” But eventually, about a year and a half later, I got an answer: “I want you to become a priest.”

But as I look back on this time in my life, and the time preceding it, I know I made two mistakes. The first mistake, of course, was not asking this question sooner. But the second mistake, and the more important mistake, was allowing the fear of asking this question to keep me from being with Jesus.

If we go back to the beginning of the Gospel of Mark, to Mark Chapter 3, when Jesus names His twelve disciples, we read this: “He went up the mountain and summoned those whom he wanted and they came to him. He appointed twelve [whom he also named apostles] that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.” Notice that the first priority of the twelve disciples is to be with Jesus—not to do anything, but to be with Him. Being, not doing, comes first. “He appointed twelve…that they might be with him” and then, and only then, that He “might send them forth to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.”

Like I did ten years ago, the disciples in our gospel today made two mistakes. The first mistake was not asking Jesus their questions. But the second mistake, and the more important mistake, was allowing their fear of asking their questions to keep them from being with Jesus. When they heard Jesus talking about being handed over and killed, they were probably afraid that Jesus was going to ask them to go through this as well. They were afraid of doing something that Jesus might be calling them to do. And this fear of doing, led them to forget their first priority as disciples: being with Jesus. Yes, they should have been willing to ask their questions of Jesus. But even if they didn’t ask them, they at least shouldn’t have pulled back. They shouldn’t have left Jesus’ side. They should have remained with Him. Because being a disciple isn’t first and foremost about doing but being. It’s about being with Jesus. “He appointed twelve that they might be with him.”

So how are we doing with that? Is there a question in our heart that we’ve been afraid to ask the Lord? And have we allowed our fear of asking that question to cause us to pull back from Jesus, to walk behind Him, at a distance, not with Him at His side? My challenge to all of us this week is this: Ask your question of Jesus. But more importantly, even if you don’t ask it, don’t allow your fear of asking the question to keep you from Jesus. More than anything, Jesus just wants to be with you. He wants to be with you more than He wants you to do anything. And if you remain with Jesus this week, if you abide with Him, if you walk with Him, even if He leads you to the cross, you will be exactly where you need to be, and you will know what the Lord is calling you to do. Amen.