Evangelizing can be discouraging. We have the best news: God loves us. We also have proof: Jesus’ sacrifice for us (Rom 5:8).
Even more, we have the fact of the resurrection, a testimony to the veracity of Christ’s message of mercy. As a result, we should all heed his warnings and rush to conform our lives to the Gospel. Yet, despite the overwhelmingly positive and even sensational news, so few seem to take notice. The early Christians traveled the known world shouting “resurrection!” but even St. Paul, reflecting on his ministry, described his efforts in less than cheery terms: “I have become all things to all, to save at least some” (1Cor 9:22). At least some? Can we not be more optimistic? Yet even Jesus, who “did not need anyone to testify about human nature” (Jn 2:25), doubts the impact of the resurrection.
This Sunday’s Gospel (Lk 16:19-31) presents a sobering parable. By it we glimpse the afterlife and discover that it is stratified. Between poor Lazarus and the rich man “a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing.” On the one side there is rest in the “bosom of Abraham.” But the rich man describes the other side as a “place of torment.” This is a grave picture, but what is most disturbing is how the parable ends.
Seeing that his fate is sealed, the rich man tries to save his brothers. He asks that Lazarus be sent to warn them. Convinced that the scriptures are not enough, he argues that “if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.” The reply is harrowing, especially when we remember that Jesus is speaking: if they are not persuaded by the scriptures, “neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from dead.” These are sad but honest words from our Lord. Jesus, whose whole life is based around the sign of Jonah (Matt 12:39-41), a sign he will accomplish by way of torture and death, readily acknowledges that even resurrection will not convince many. A thick shadow covers the human heart if even the light of the resurrection cannot penetrate it.
The Gospel is often rejected. Christ foresaw that. He knew that, despite his sacrifice, many would not turn to God. Yet, in love, he did it anyway. The same is true for us. As evangelists our first motive is love. If we want success, we are quickly wearied by lack of results. God did not become incarnate because he foresaw total success. In fact he sounds a bit pessimistic in places. Rather he came because of love. So it is with the true evangelists. They love souls. They persevere energetically because “love never fails” (1Cor 13:8).