Image: Red Fox, Trapper’s Lake
In the small northern communities in which I minister there are many dogs. Most of the adult dogs are tied to poles or old tires in the yards of their owners so that they don’t stray. The puppies, on the other hand, are usually allowed to wander freely. As I walk through the streets I am often surrounded by the little balls of fur and they love the attention I show them. Sometimes they cling to me and it is hard to get them to go home where they belong.
Contrast this behavior with that of the wild foxes that also come near the communities. Foxes are naturally curious and they have come to be quite adapted to living alongside humans. But the instinct of a fox will not let it come close. It does not appreciate human attention and, if you approach, the fox will quickly vanish. Even a morsel of food will not quickly tempt the animal as it senses in everything a trap.
The difference between the two animals is fear. The puppies have no natural fear of human beings while the fox, despite the many benefits that it finds living near to us, is still naturally cautious to the inherent danger that comes from being too close.
There is a similar dynamic at work between us and God. We are drawn toward God, we have a yearning in our heart for what God offers. Yet we shy away when God draws near, we fear what that closeness may cost us.
In the Gospel Jesus presents to his followers what seems to be an ultimatum.
The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe. For this reason, I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”
For some this is a push too far. Fear of the unknown becomes a sticking point and they turn away from Jesus and return to their former lives. The disciples on the other hand make a choice to stay.
We are right to fear God, coming near to God will cost us a lot. It will change our plans, reorder our values, perhaps scare off our friends and maybe even cost us our life. The disciples knew this but they also believed something else. In following Jesus they did not believe they were walking into a trap but instead they had faith that they were being set free. They understood that life without God is like being tied to the pole where we pace in circles trying to find the meaning in the rut of our existence.
To follow Jesus requires a choice. Our instincts tell us to preserve ourselves, to focus on our own desires and goals but this is idolatry. We fear subservience and losing ourselves if we make the choice to conform our will to God’s but the opposite is true.
St. Alphonsus, reflecting on the choice to align our life with God’s life, wrote;
“Perfection is founded entirely on the love of God and perfect love of God means the complete union of our will with God’s”
It is only in God that we find our true nature. The fox is at home in the forest den but our place is with God. If we choose to respond positively to the invitation of Jesus he will show us the way to that perfection.