Every parish gathering is a time for people to come to be near Christ. As in the Gospels, people came to Christ for all kinds of reasons – some to hear Him, some to see Him, some to oppose Him, some to touch Him, some to be healed, some to be fed, some to trap Him or trick Him, some to be His disciples, some out of curiosity, and some out of animosity, some in hope, some in despair, some to debate Him, some to stop Him, some to be comforted by Him, some to learn from Him, some to be praised by Him, some just to touch the hem of His garment and some to be glorified by Him. Whatever the reason, they came and crowded around Christ – friend, foe, follower. And He allowed it. He didn’t chase away the curious or the hostile, the needy or the greedy, the hungry or those full of themselves. And just as the bishop notes in Leskov’s novel On the Edge of the World, some really do just want to touch the hem of His garment and not become His disciples or his ambassadors. He welcomes them all blessing some, bantering with others, shepherding and being lamb, teacher and foil, giver of light and lightening rod.
Such is my image of what any parish is. People come for Christ, but the reasons they come are as varied as those in the crowds who followed Jesus 2000 years ago. Some come because of faith, and some because of doubt, some want to be His disciples, and some just want their needs met, some are very serious and devout while others are casual and careless, some are legalistic while others are lazy, some are righteous and others are repentant, some are true believers and others truly do not know what to believe. That is what a living parish community is like. People’s faith grows and changes and wanes and strengthens because that faith is alive and involves a living relationship with God and with others. They all come for Christ, and it is not our job to protect Christ from the crowd, nor to chase away those who come to Him for reasons different from our own, nor to send them away when we are tired of them (Jesus didn’t approve of any such behaviors from his inner circle of original disciples).
We all should come to the parish gathering with that same attitude – be it like Zacchaeus, or the woman with the flow of blood, or the disciples, or the Pharisees, or the scribes, or the Gaderene townspeople, or the blind, or like Herod, or the hungry, or the sick, or those wanting to help a friend. The crowds may jostle for position or sit down and wait to be fed or cause Christ to get into a boat to get out of reach. Do not fear their tears, their diseases, their anger, or their judgments, their questions, their righteousness or their sins. Marvel at why so many are attracted to Crucified Lord, the humble savior, the rejected healer.
“Jesus is the truth. In Him is all truth. … The Savior gives no direct answer, either affirmative or negative, to (the Baptist) John’s disciples who questioned Him about His mission. He tells them to report to John what they have seen. … We must keep on perpetually seeking Jesus. ‘Seek, and you shall find’ (Matt 7:7). Yes. But also: because you have found, you will seek further. We shall cease to look for Jesus only at the end of time. The discovery of Jesus will not exhaust our search for Him as long as we have not obtained the final vision. St. Augustine says it:… let us search after Him who has been found. … The question which Jesus asked the soldiers who came to arrest Him – ‘Whom do you seek?’ – recalls the question asked of the first two disciples: “What do you seek?’ (John 1:38) The expression, ‘all seek for You'(Mark 1:37), addressed one day to Jesus by the disciples, does not cease to be current. Some seek Jesus in order to join Him, others in order to render Him powerless. If only these two groups were distinctly separate! Alas! In our condition of sinful men we belong intermittently to one or the other group.” (Fr. Lev Gillet, JESUS: A DIALOGUE WITH THE SAVIOUR)
True enough. But Christ did not order His disciples to send away the hungry nor the hateful. He did tell us all to seek and promised we would see great things.