Christians are Bad Brand Ambassadors | 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The deacons at the Cathedral and Sacred Heart preached this weekend, so no real homily from me. That said, having listened to their homilies and reading the usual reflections I like online, here’s just one thing that’s coming to mind.

I remember when my brother started working at McDonald’s corporate HQ right after college, he would speak very often of the company’s insistence that all of its employees strive at all times to be good “brand ambassadors.” They should wear their McDonald’s gear with pride, and speak highly of the company in conversation and on the internet. The argument, of course, was that McDonald’s wasn’t just a fast food company, but an all-American employment provider and a true benefit to the areas where McDonald’s can be found…which, remember, at least in America is absolutely everywhere.

Christians are often very poor brand ambassadors. We don’t represent ourselves well, and we certainly don’t offer a lot of proof that our mission – telling the world that a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ is possible and that the Father sent him to reconcile you with himself that you might live in perfect union with the Holy Trinity forever in heaven and begin to live that life of union and holiness even here on earth AND, oh yeah, I know it’s real because it happened to me and here’s my story – bears actual fruit.

Last week I was at the hospital by my parish and had just finished anointing someone. When I got back to the parking garage, I was pulling out of my spot and another car was turning down the aisle but didn’t show signs of slowing down. I thought, “oh they’re coming for my spot, so they’ll slow down when they get closer.” Not so, the wicked, not so. I was almost all the way out of my spot when the car finally caught up to me and then slowed down. As I straightened out and pulled away, I cast a really nasty glance toward the driver who, to my surprise, was greeting me with a giant smile and looked genuinely happy to see me.

Nice. Happy Christian lady smiling at a priest who returns her greeting with a scowl. Not a very good brand ambassador.

In many ways, this is the classic commentary on this Gospel. Jesus asks his disciples one of the most important questions he ever asks them, and the interpretation is fairly straighforward. Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?”

Our answer to this question makes all the difference. He’s either the Christ or he’s not. And if he’s not, then “peace out, Jesus” because the things you’re starting to talk about are beyond what I’m interested in. If he is the Christ, though, then everything about me has to change.

Whatever I say or do, whatever kind of look I give to ladies in parking garages does not impact what is true: that Jesus is the Messiah and that the precepts of the Lord are right and just. My faith, and the works by which my faith is made known to the world, do or do not speak to this reality; they don’t change whether it’s real or not. The truth, then, is always available and is always being proposed. 

There are two reactions to a proposition: reject it or accept it. Rejecting it is easy. But accepting a proposal requires taking a risk. On that note, I’ll leave it to a classmate who said it better here: “Only if we can take the risk and admit that he is the Messiah, that he is the one through whom God will fulfill all of his promises—only if we can admit and confess that, will anything that comes after make any sense. It is only by taking that risk that we can begin to truly follow him, and thus begin to experience how ridiculously happy it makes us. When we begin to follow Jesus Christ, what we give up does not even compare to what we gain. We realize, that in losing our life, we gain it! We gain so much more than we could gain on our own! This is the risk. Who do you say that he is?”

Disciples make disciples. People who both say that they believe that Jesus is the Christ and live in such a way that betrays this belief are the ones who attract others to this belief and way of life.

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