By KATIE GROSS
The disciples said to Jesus,
“Now you are talking plainly, and not in any figure of speech.
Now we realize that you know everything
and that you do not need to have anyone question you.
Because of this we believe that you came from God.”
Jesus answered them, “Do you believe now?
Behold, the hour is coming and has arrived
when each of you will be scattered to his own home
and you will leave me alone.
But I am not alone, because the Father is with me.
I have told you this so that you might have peace in me.
In the world you will have trouble,
but take courage, I have conquered the world.”
In today’s Gospel reading, we are reminded once again of just how human the disciples were, and subsequently how they mirror our own discipleship of Christ. Now, upon first reading this Gospel, one might think that the disciples made a stunning profession of faith. After all, they told Jesus that he knew everything, had no need of being questioned, and came from God; how could this not be the most humble profession of faith? I would venture to say that it is the exact opposite—it is a perfect example of how pride can “smuggle itself into the very center of our religious life,” as C.S. Lewis once wrote.
C.S. Lewis wrote extensively on pride. As a Christian scholar, he knew all too well how pride could poison one’s spiritual life, turning conversations about God into competitions over who knew the most, who was the holiest, or who was the most eloquent. I think he would pinpoint a huge instance of pride in the declaration of the disciples. Notice that the disciples do not simply praise Jesus, but instead almost praise themselves by stating that “now we realize that you know everything” and “we believe you came from God.” It is as if they had just finished a complex math equation—they believed they got it right, and they were content to just stop there. They had it all figured out. Jesus scolded them for their pride.
This is a trap that is all too easy to fall into as Catholics.One time, I texted a good friend after I had made a questionable decision. I told her that I was ashamed, and that I had expected more of myself. She responded with one of the most profound things I have ever heard: “Expecting more of yourself is pride itself. Remember that you are a sinner. Assume that you will mess up.”
Furthermore, to be a faithful Catholic is to choose an inherently countercultural lifestyle. This is a good thing.However, when we choose this countercultural lifestyle, it becomes so easy to look to the other, perhaps-less-religious people around us and say, “Man, I feel sorry for them—I have it all figured out.” Just like the disciples. This could not be a more dangerous statement. C.S. Lewis sums this up perfectly: “Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good—above all, that we are better than someone else—I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil.” It’s scary to think about, but it’s true: evil has a perfect way to fit right in the center of our relationship with God. Therefore, we must be vigilant. We must not forget that we by our very human nature are sinful. When we think we have it all figured out, we don’t have a clue.
Even so, I don’t suggest that everyone return to sackcloth and ashes and lament their sinful ways for the rest of their lives.Instead, the whole point of our Christian lives is to not onlyrecognize that we are sinful by nature, but also that Jesus took on our nature to save us. He understands and even expects thatwe will fail, even when the rest of the world holds us to a perfect standard. After all, right after Jesus scolds the disciples for abandoning him, he consoles them with some of the most touching words in all of Scripture: “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” Even when we are proud—the very antithesis of what Jesus is and what He calls us to be—He still consoles us. He is patient beyond all patience.
So just remember—you never have it all figured out. Be humble, just as the Lord is humble.