Archbishop William E. Lori
Fans can be loyal. I know. I live in Baltimore, where front doors are painted purple in allegiance to the Ravens and where almost everyone is convinced that this is the year for the Orioles. The teams’ logos are everywhere in store windows, on cars and busses, and on clothing. Many people instantly recognize the players, and some even know their statistics by heart.
Though fans can be loyal, they can also be fickle. When the home team is having a bad season, ticket sales drop and games are played in half-empty stadiums. If the team is losing badly, fans will head for the parking lot long before the game is over. Superstar players can easily fall from grace. Once-loyal fans who used to cheer them on can boo them in the next breath. And the fans are ready to pounce on any general manager or coach who, in their estimation, trades players unwisely or picks the wrong strategy.
In a similar way, we could say that Jesus had fans, too. In the Gospels, “crowds” gathered in droves to hear him speak and watched in amazement as he worked miracles. Jerusalem gave him a hero’s welcome when he arrived there only a few days before Passover. But like fair-weather sports fans, the crowds’ loyalty to Jesus had limits.
FANS AND DISCIPLES
Jesus’ fans found him to be an attractive personality and an engaging speaker. Jesus had a way of confounding his opponents that delighted audiences. He spoke in a way that touched their minds and hearts as no one else had. His words were also backed up with miracles; many knew of someone whom Jesus had healed. And there was a growing conviction that this Jesus just might be the one who would free Israel from the oppression of the Roman Empire.
But his fans were loyal only to a point. Take, for example, his address in the synagogue at Nazareth. When Jesus began his address, people marveled “at the gracious words that came from his mouth” (Lk 4:22). But when, in effect, Jesus proclaimed himself to be the Messiah and told the people the truth about themselves, they turned on him. Likewise, consider the Bread of Life discourse in John’s Gospel. People were coming to believe in Jesus in great numbers, but when he told them that he was “the bread that comes down from heaven” (Jn 6:50) and that he would give them his flesh to eat and his blood to drink, many stopped believing. They left Jesus and returned to their former way of life (cf. Jn 6:66). Finally, after having given Jesus a hero’s welcome when he entered Jerusalem, just a few days later the same crowds were calling for Jesus to be crucified.
Some of Jesus’ fans, though, did become true followers and disciples. They, too, were attracted by Jesus by what he said and did. It is true that they did not readily understand who Jesus was or his mission. At first, they may have thought of him as a political leader rather than the Savior of the world. Nonetheless, as they began to listen more closely and to struggle more intently, Jesus’ gaze of love touched them at a deeper level. They left everything and followed him. To be sure, most of them deserted Jesus at the time of his trial, suffering and death. Yet, when the risen Lord appeared and the Holy Spirit overshadowed them at Pentecost, their minds and hearts were opened. They became the Lord’s witnesses to the ends of the earth.
OUR LADY’S WITNESS
When the disciples were being transformed from fans to disciples, they were accompanied by Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Mary was present at the wedding feast of Cana, when Jesus began his public ministry. When Jesus addressed a crowd, his mother and his close relatives waited outside to see him. Mary stood at the foot of the cross. She was there when the news of the Resurrection was revealed. She prayed with the Apostles at Pentecost. And she was present at the earliest celebrations of the Eucharist.
Mary was never merely a fan; she was always a disciple, and she lived her whole life according to the Word. Before Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, Mary was living the Beatitudes. Sinless and loving, she played a most pivotal role in God’s plan to save the world. Thanks to her prayers and her witness, many stopped being fans and started being true followers of her Son.
We can ask ourselves: Are we fans or followers? If we regard Jesus as an attractive leader who offered sound ethical teaching and not much more, then we are still only fans. We are fickle fans if we desert the faith when the Church is in crisis or when our pastor makes an unpopular decision; still more if we pick and choose from among the Lord’s teachings those that suit us.
Yet we become disciples when we listen to and embrace the Gospel. Pope Francis writes: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen, and free you” (Evangelii Gaudium, 164).
Mary played a crucial role in the lives of the first disciples. If we draw close to Mary in true devotion, she will help us in our journey toward true discipleship. Let us pray the rosary daily and allow her to lead us more deeply into the mysteries of Christ, who calls us to be not merely his fans, but his followers and living witnesses before the world.