Zero Sum Game

One of the many things we can observe about our Lord is His uncanny lack of care about numbers and averages.

From a human standpoint, with such an important mission as saving the world, it may seem that He did not dedicate a lot of time to it. After four thousand years of waiting for His Birth, and except for that unusual instance in the Temple when He was twelve and insisted that He must be about His Father’s business, (Lk. 2:49), one would think He would have been chomping at the bit to get started.

Christ among the Doctors, Paolo Veronese

Instead, He was thirty when He decided to set out from Nazareth, and He pretty much laid low and did not do much during that first year of His public life. He saw an increase in popularity during the second year courtesy of His miracles, but eventually that waned. By the third year, opposition spread and things were a mess, and they ended even messier.

The devil had tried to give our Lord advice on how to best go about things, especially after wasting thirty years as a carpenter in a know-nothing village. After all, filling stomachs and purses by turning stones into bread, or putting on shows with His divine power by throwing Himself off a cliff, sure would have kept the numbers coming (cf. Mt. 4).

Such suggestions kept popping up throughout His life.

They tried to make Him king after the miracle of the loaves, and He fled (Jn. 6:15). Newly-named Peter tried to distract Him from the Cross, and Christ called him Satan (Mt. 16:23). After His words about eating His Body and drinking His Blood, He challenged His Apostles to walk away also (Jn. 6:68). Even to the very end, Herod asked to see miracles (Lk: 23:8), and the crowd challenged Him to come down from the Cross so they could believe (Mt. 27:40).

Lest we accuse our Lord of intentionally disqualifying Himself for the front page of Fortune 100, or to be some sort of justification for late-starting millennials, Christ knew what was in man, and understood perfectly what He had to contend with in order to achieve and obtain the result He wanted.

During His entire life, always self-possessed and in command of Himself, Christ was always going about His Father’s business, for God’s ways are not our ways. (cf. Is. 55:8) The sin of man had to be atoned for, and humility was to be the overarching theme throughout as a lesson on how to counter the pride that got us into the actual mess we were in – but could not see it until Christ hung on the Cross in the condition man left Him in.

But through it all, He called for imitation of His life if we wanted what He offered – to be heirs with Him of a kingdom that would last forever (Lk. 12:32).

And this would have its own appeal through the centuries, because no man has ever spoken like Jesus Christ, who asked for much and promised even more, and proved to be Who He claimed. True, it would always spark controversy and be unpopular in certain circles.

Nonetheless, that Christ is God is the game-changer; no one else makes that claim and proves it, no other religion outside the fold of Christianity has it. There is no room for a middle road or compromise, and perhaps it is a question that needs to be asked more vocally and publicly in this far-from-black-and-white world in which we live: is Christ God?

How one answers – and how much one believes it – will affect how one lives. Christ is not some mythical figure; He is a mystical Figure, true God and true Man. Should this not be the greatest thing ever? Should we not be grateful to be numbered among His baptized and want others to have it? No wonder Christ commanded for it to be preached and spread.

Come, Holy Ghost, and stir us up!

But it seems that modern evangelization efforts have cowered under pressure to soften this, lest we offend. While admitting that there can be better and worse ways to evangelize, the question about Christ remains the same and must be asked. St. Paul was all about this and he would likely be martyred again today for doing it.

Regrettably, it seems the Church has grown too comfortable in recent decades of not asking this, and asking it frequently, almost like she is embarrassed by it, as if evangelization is a zero-sum game, as if there is only a static number of souls to work with. Worried that the faithful would leave should they hear the hard truths, it has been forgotten that for anyone that walks away (painful as it may be to watch at times), others will always come – and will stay – perhaps even more than those who left.

There just might be a great catch to be had if the nets are dropped with conviction, recognizing as Peter did that Christ alone, though His Church, has the words of everlasting life.  How many more gimmicks and programs need to be introduced, sometimes at great expense, before we catch on that they do comparatively little in retaining the faithful and making converts?

Has not Christ left us a simple recipe to follow? There is nothing that evangelizes more effectively than a prayer-fed patient, charitable, and uncompromising commitment to Christ and His Church, with all the unpopular truths that compose the words of everlasting life.

Perhaps it would do well for the Church at large to realize that our Lord’s lack of concern for numbers is not an excuse for inactivity, because that seeming lack of concern was accompanied by a courage that took Him to the Cross, upon which He gathers all to Himself who have ears to hear, provided someone preaches, manifesting that evangelization is not zero-sum. Nor a game.

December 21, 2020