Walking around a university campus during 'Freshers' Week' I was approached by a group of students who asked me if I was a priest. Replying in the affirmative, they provided me with one of their leaflets and invited me to open my mind.
They were busy promoting meetings and discussions for atheist, secularist and other such groups. They wanted to achieve precisely the opposite to my goals; they wanted intellectual discussions in the heart of the University about the non-existence of God, about the futility of belief, about the irrationality of religion. In the heart of this institution of learning, we were rivals. My presence and what I hold dear was a challenge to them, as theirs is to me. They did not engage me in conversation, they did not abuse or insult me. They calmly and firmly issued their challenge: 'Open your mind'. I'm not one who will easily shy away from argument. So when the challenge was issued, I gave my retort: 'Open your mind'.
Thus we parted. But the brief encounter remained with me. What does it mean to be open-minded? Of course, I know what those young people were getting at. It isn't pleasant to be considered closed-minded, much less to be so. Our freedom is inhibited when our minds are closed.
This week's Gospel passage comes from the early part of the Gospel of St John. Jesus is gathering to himself people who believe in him, although their faith is not without its flaws. Even so, they are called and chosen to follow the Lord, freely. They will be tested, for at the end of his ministry, they will witness the rejection of the Lord by those whose hearts are hardened, those whose minds are closed to who he is. Aware that they are following him, the Lord turns to ask them, 'What do you seek?'
It is a question without words for an answer. It isn't that they don't know, it's more that they can't express it. So they ask him where he is staying, while he invites them: 'Come and see'. And what an invitation! They would see the Lamb of God enacting the drama of salvation. They would look into the heart of the Messiah.
The Lord's words are addressed to all of us: Come and see. Truly living our faith means staying close with Jesus and dwelling with him with an open mind, an open heart. Free of preoccupations and agendas of our own, he gently reveals himself to us and teaches us how to live in the truth. God calls us to greatness, but it is not a greatness of our own making. What truly makes us great in God's eyes is what he accomplishes in us.
The first disciples were weak and inadequate in many ways. Surely the Lord, when he appeared, could have chosen more talented, competent and dazzling men to spread the Gospel through all the nations. But he didn't. He chose ordinary folk and invited them to come and see. He asked them to open their minds, to open their hearts. He revealed himself to them, and that transformed them. They became humble preachers of the Gospel and carried out their task, undaunted. They did not hanker after self-glory or a sense of personal achievement. They had looked into the heart of God. They desired to make him known.
Those students I
encountered in 'Freshers' Week' made me think. Not so much about arguments for
the existence of God, but about the reality of the continuous challenge of the
Gospel and how we must always seek the Lord with an open heart, an open mind.
It is all too easy to be distracted by the quest for our own glory. So I'll
pass on the challenge right here. Open your mind.