6th Sunday of Easter Reflection by Paul Nicholson

There is so much about our daily living that demands from us compliance. We are surrounded on all sides by spoken and unspoken rules, contracts, guidelines,
promises, and expectations. Most of these demands we enter into willingly, hoping for some reward or the fulfillment of our desire for a better life, a better partner, a better job, a better school, a better …, you fill in the blank. I think this environment of demand can offer us structure and a sense of purpose, certainly providing incentive to achieve goals, and often, this kind of atmosphere empowers us to exceed our expectations and dreams. But it also brings with it a constant energy of scrutiny and analysis, weighing and considering every choice we make and how it might or might not fit in to the larger view of our lives. Often we may find that individual demands we so willingly embrace are, in a broader context, at odds with other equally important demands, so that in the day-to-day business of our lives we end up feeling conflicted or confused, our conscience uneasy.

It strikes me that this relentless scrutiny we experience, from without and within, and the accompanying feelings of conflict it generates, is a powerful force that fuels two endemic aspects of our society: obsession with being right, and delight in knowing (and pointing out) that some thing or someone else is wrong. Both are deeply intertwined. Knowing that something is not right in our lives is usually quite painful and disturbing. It can cause us to question our self-worth, our acceptance by others, and even lead us to wonder if we are worthy of love. Focusing on someone else’s wrong-ness diverts attention away from our troubled conscience and soothes the painful anxiety we may feel inside. The less “right” we feel or know about ourselves the more inclined we are to focus on everything in the world that is wrong and needs correction. It just feels good to tell someone else what they’re doing wrong and how they should follow our example, think and act like us.

Unfortunately, everybody is telling everybody else what they’re doing wrong. And I think it is fair to say everyone is troubled in conscience to some degree, though some of our leaders may exempt themselves from that statement. I don’t know a single person in my circles who honestly claims to have it all worked out. There’s a great meme I saw on Instagram not too long ago: it’s all messy—the hair, the bed, the heart…life.

So Jesus tells his disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” At first blush it may seem like yet another set of rules to follow. However, I latch onto the first part of that sentence: If you love me. If Peter, who betrayed Jesus three times in the courtyard, can say to the risen Christ, “Lord, you know I love you,” then I feel right at home loving Christ in the best way I know how, despite my troubled and conflicted conscience. I don’t feel compelled to have all my ducks in a row, to have all of my positions mapped out, before I follow Christ. I know I love him and he promises to be with me in a Spirit of truth.