Please bear with me as I start my reflection with a story that may seem very far afield from today's readings.
Years ago I was in acting school and, with my fellow students, we would do scenes from plays in class. Our teacher was probably not nearly as old as I imagined. She had a Russian accent and that, combined with her seeming age and longevity as an acting coach to the famous and near famous, made her every word seem like a pearl of wisdom.
One day as my partner and I were doing a scene, Dr. Bella turned to the class and said: "People, that moment that you love so much, that one where you are ‘acting up a storm'? Let it go. Let go of your favorite moment and then you will be a better actor." Darn.
Over the months as I have written these spiritual reflections, I have found myself often seeking out that place in the text where our God of love and compassion is revealed. But the God of today's first reading is not a warm and fuzzy God, and in truth, despite the enormity of Christ's love and compassion for us, Jesus is not a warm and fuzzy guy either.
Both readings, one more stern than the other, tell us in no uncertain terms that to be a faithful follower is to be willing to let go of everything before God. We may not need to, ultimately, but our willingness is all. In the first reading, for example, Ezekiel demonstrates very concretely that we are fickle and dismissive of God at our own peril. In the Gospel, Jesus teaches that we must not only follow the Commandments, but we are also called to let go of the very thing we hold onto the most in order to follow him. Our physical, financial or emotional security blankets? Let them go.
As I reflect back on that day in acting school, I know that what Dr. Bella was saying was that I was not on stage for myself; no good actor is. I wasn't there to give the big performance, get the big applause or get the play fired up. I was there to serve the story, my fellow actors and the play's message. I had to be willing to drop the safety net and trust. And I think that's the message of today's Gospel, too.
Nancy Nickel is the former director of communications at the Passionist Development Office in Chicago.