The quote above contains the first words of Kempis in this chapter (2,1). How does one have a deep interior conversation with God (the theme of this chapter) when one’s heart is in this world and its distractions? When one’s status is considered paramount and the affairs of others is a bigger concern than the Lord and personal conversion?
Certainly, Jesus’ calling out of the Pharisees in today’s Gospel (Jn 8:21-30) is meant to bring conversion, not condemnation (see Jesus’ different conversation with a Pharisee at Jn 3:17). Many Pharisees did not accept Jesus despite claiming to know the Scriptures (see Mt 22:29). These men were far too concerned with their status among the people and the affairs of others. Jesus wishes to shake them from their erroneous ways, often with pointed language like we hear in this reading and particularly in the quote at top. Jesus loves (He is Love — see 1 Jn 4:8), but sometimes it is tough love.
“The kingdom of God is within you,” Kempis says (see Lk 17:21). Our challenge is to get our “whole heart” to fall in line. Quitting this “miserable world” does not mean we want out as soon as possible or that we don’t engage the world (although certainly some of the monks and nuns to whom Kempis was [and is] speaking to did take that route — and thank God for the men and women who devote their lives to prayer). Rather, as we have already seen frequently in The Imitation of Christ, our focus must remain on eternity, on the Christ who came into the world for us but who does “not belong to this world.” His warning about “d[ying] in your sins” was meant to serve as a wake up call for the Pharisees of his time as it is for us today.
Because he spoke this way, many came to believe in him.
This last line of the reading is interesting isn’t it? One might have expected folks to be upset or walk away, but His strong words to the Pharisees, His declaration that He is God (“I AM”), and His statement that He always pleases the Father, were attractive to many of his hearers that day. It serves as a lesson this day that we are never to soft peddle the truth: we are sinners and need to hear this fact in no uncertain terms (see Heb 4:12); Jesus is God and that entails that we believe in Him and listen to Him (see Mt 17:5); Jesus followed the will of His Father in all things and this perfect example is what we are called to follow (see Mt 5:48).