The Gospel of John 17:9 says," My prayer is not for the world, but for those you have given me, because they belong to you." Most Christians are familiar with the catchy phrase that they be "in the world, but not of the world."
This radical Christian teaching is derived mainly from the priestly prayer of Jesus in John, Chapter 17, where he prays for his disciples because they have to follow his example in the world. St. Paul reiterates this same message in Romans 12:2 when he declares, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind."
Why, you might ask, would the Lord call you to live a good life in this world and then tell you not to be a part of this world? How is it possible to answer the Lord’s call if you do not get actively involved with other people in the world? After all, Jesus threw himself into his surroundings, and vigorously went about from place to place proclaiming his good news to prostitutes and sinners.
Obviously, we cannot reach out to the lost, the downtrodden, the poor, the sinners and those kept in bondage if we are not in the world trying to help them. We have all been born into this world as fragile descendants of Adam and Eve, but we can make this world a better place if we follow Jesus who came into the world, not to condemn it but to redeem it (John 3:17).
The flip side of this message is that, although we must be actively engaged in the world, we must also keep ourselves "unpolluted by the world" (James 1:27). The Lord does not want us to become polluted by the evil of the world, and the way to avoid contamination by the evil one is to avoid the evil ways of the world.
Today’s scriptural message is a hard one to follow in this day and age of incredible advances in technology and instant communication. We now have more things to amuse us, to tempt us, and to trip us up than ever before. This makes it easier to lose our sense of balance, and fall prey to the false values of the world: those values that encourage instant gratification, sexual license, promiscuity, hedonism, and unbridled materialism.
Jesus makes it as clear as day what he expects of us. We must stay in the world and make it a better place by avoiding sin and following his example. He wants us to be the leaven of society; the salt of the earth that purifies our surroundings rather than pollute them. He wants us to be effective and creative participants in the world without being "of the world."
Fr. Hugh Duffy holds a Ph.D. from the University of Hull, England. Born in Donegal, Ireland, he was ordained in 1966 in Dublin, Ireland. He is pastor emeritus of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Okeechobee, Florida, where he served for 30 years and built a new Church, debt-free, in 2013. He founded Christian Community Action (CCA) in Ireland that built housing for seniors, a sheltered workshop and bakery for people with disabilities, a community center, and an addiction treatment center. Since 2013 he has traveled across America as an Outreach Priest for Cross Catholic Outreach, Inc. Duffy’s recent book, "What is This Thing Called Faith?" is a collection of meditations with reflections for readers on the sayings of Jesus. For more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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