Our Faith and Works

One of the best known of all the scientific studies written by Daniel Goleman, the author of the best-selling Emotional Intelligence stories about emotional intelligence is the famous “marshmallow test”, a series of studies on delayed gratification in the 1970s. This was led by psychologist Walter Mischel, who was then a professor at Stanford University, and Ebbe B. Ebbesen. In this experiment four-year-olds from the Stanford University pre-school were brought to a room and sat in a chair in front of a juicy marshmallow on a table. They were told they could eat it now, or get two if they were willing to wait until the experimenter came back from running an errand.

Later studies by Prof. Mischel found unexpected correlations between the results of the marshmallow test and the success of the children many years later. The first follow-up study, in 1988, showed that “preschool children who delayed gratification longer in the self-imposed delay paradigm, were described more than 10 years later by their parents as adolescents who were significantly more competent.” A second follow-up study in 1990, showed that the ability to delay gratification also correlated with higher SAT scores.

The past few weeks the Gospels tell about the reign of the Kingdom of Heaven, or the “reign of love”. From this theme, the Lord now shifts dramatically into telling His Apostles about His true identity as the Messiah and the sufferings He must endure. This is very dramatic, that even the Apostles couldn’t easily grasp. Without doubt, they love the Lord so much. It was undoubtedly easy to love Jesus at this time of His life: His public ministry bode well for them as the miracles that the Lord performed were all a dramatic success. When Jesus asked them who He was, Peter, in behalf of the other apostles, answered, “You are the Messiah”. When Jesus told them the sufferings He has to undergo, they became afraid. It was very difficult for them to understand what He has to go through as the Messiah much to the disappointment of Peter and the rest. They had difficulty understanding why the Lord has to undergo such. Then Jesus explained to them the meaning of true discipleship:

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and come follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the Gospel will save it. ”

I can imagine what Jesus was undergoing at this time, as He foretells His suffering and death. Then here comes Peter, who protested strongly and so Jesus has to rebuke him “Get behind me Satan! You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” It is important that Jesus let them witness His miracles in order to show them who He is, without telling it to them yet. There has to be action (in the form of miracles) before the confirmation comes in. Jesus has to ask to really hear it from them proclaiming His Messianic identity. Then, expounding on the need to die in order to gain life, St. John’s Gospel account of the parable of the grain of wheat vividly explains this,

“Amen, amen I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” (Jn. 12: 24-25)

Jesus drew this parable about resurrection and the Kingdom of God from the situations at that time. Being familiar with the agricultural way of living, His audience could easily understand the principle of seeds sown into the earth, dying in the process, and growing into a new plant. The image of the grain of wheat dying in the earth in order to grow and bear a harvest can be seen also as a metaphor of Jesus’ own death, burial in the tomb and his eventual Resurrection. Jesus suffering and death is like a “Divine Necessity”, to enter into the Glory of God.

To win Heaven, we must be willing to give ourselves to Jesus and to the Gospel. This means we have to reflect Him in our lives, so that others will know Him more. While in Nepal many years ago, after giving clothes to a young man who was trembling wet in the cold, he fell on the ground to kiss my feet as a gesture of gratitude (Hindus believe in many gods and goddesses and so sometimes they think of expatriates like me as a “god”). Of course I have to pull him up and told him that God is One in Nature and Three in Persons, that is Jesus Christ, in consubstantial with the Father, and the Holy Spirit.

Today, Jesus tells us what true love and true faith is all about. It’s about unwavering commitment. It’s not only about feelings, it’s also about being steadfast. Let us take the time to reflect about our intentions in following Jesus, and in loving others. We cannot be a follower in name only, we have to put it into action, we have to give it flesh and blood. As St. James said, “What good is it my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? Faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (Jas. 2: 14, 17)

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