March 20, 2015
Friday of the 4th week of Lent
Jesus Changes Our Mind About Acceptance
“Merely to see him is a hardship for us,
Because his life is not like that of others,
and different are his ways.”
Jesus calls us to change our mind about all sorts of things. Most glaring in the Gospels is his repeated teaching that being rich is more a curse than a blessing (Matthew 19:23; Luke 6:24; 12:21). And the fact that he died defeated by his enemies was a soul-shocking contradiction of the assumption in today’s reading from Wisdom: “For if the just one be the son of God, he will defend him and deliver him from the hand of his foes.” God did defend and deliver Jesus, but not during his lifetime, and his final defeat on the cross was a scandal to his disciples.
The focus today is on the metanoia Jesus calls for in our attitude toward acceptance by our society and peer group. The truth is, it is not always a good sign if people accept us. It might be a sign that we are not living by the real truth of the Gospel, and especially by Jesus’ New Law as it is summarized in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew, chapters 5-7). Wisdom says that merely to see a just man “is a hardship for us, because his life is not like that of others, and his ways are different.” The just man is hard to tolerate, precisely because he is a just man.
What if he is a divine man, living on the level of God?
The Ten Commandments are laws for those who would be “just.” Obeying them makes us good human beings. The New Law of Jesus is the law for those who have been made divine. Obeying them makes us good children of the Father, obedient members of the body of Christ, and responsive instruments of the Holy Spirit.
It also makes us unacceptable to others. If the “wicked” found the “just man” obnoxious, saying he “sets himself against our doings, reproaches us for transgressions of the law, and charges us with violations of our training,” the “cultural Catholics” will say the same about all who live by the New Law of Jesus. They will blame the divinely enlightened for “professing to have knowledge of God,” and those who are conscious of their divine identity for “styling themselves children of the Lord.” But anyone who does not fit that description is an inauthentic Christian. So if acceptance by others is really important to us, we have something to “change our minds” about.
This is all perfectly obvious, but it has little practical impact unless we get down to earth and ask how we can live the New Law of Jesus. If we read the Sermon on the Mount, we will say nothing in it can be understood, much less lived, literally. And we usually leave it at that. But suppose we take as a working principle that Jesus is preaching, not concrete things to do, but the attitudes and values of God. Then we will take responsibility for asking, “How can I make this practical in daily life?”
So if someone sues me for my coat (which won’t happen), I am not going to just turn it over and give my shirt as well. But what is the attitude and value Jesus is teaching here? How could I translate it into action in my life in a way that is realistic? To try to think like God, then act like God in the actual circumstances of human existence, that is what it means to observe the New Law of divine-human life.
And if I find concrete ways to live by the New Law, my life will be an inspiration to those who have accepted the Good News that Jesus offers “life to the full.” But it will be a threat and a reproach to those who just want to live good human lives on earth and “go to heaven” when they die.
Let’s offer one tiny concrete way to start, just as an example. Suppose we renounce, and try to refuse, any signs or expressions of acceptance based on anything but the value we have through the gift of divine life (the only value that endures forever)?
Suppose we discourage any acceptance based on how important or recognized our family is? First and last, we are all children of God.
Suppose we refuse all respect and special treatment based on how much money we have? Acceptance given because we are members of exclusive clubs, for example, is exposure to the deadly virus of baseless social prestige. God abhors unequal respect for the poor and the rich.
Suppose we refuse, or try to hide, any honors based on our human accomplishments? What do our letter-jackets, our trophies, our certificates of achievement, our honorary titles, or the protocol that proclaims our higher position at work have to say about our value in the eyes of God? Are we better than others because the gifts we have received from God (and, to our credit, used conscientiously) have a higher price in our culture than the gifts others have received and used equally well? Is a genius really more impressive than a janitor?
We have to admit that no one sins more flagrantly in this than the hierarchy of our own Catholic Church. The pretentious robes, ridiculous titles, and subservient protocol they insist upon simply proclaim their contempt for the opinion Jesus had of those “who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!” (Mark 12:38). A cardinal’s “dress uniform” costs thirty-four thousand dollars, and some bishops still parade into church trailing a fifteen-foot-long cappa magna supported by four altar boys (Google "Cardinal Raymond Burke style show").
Pope Francis rejected this foolery immediately and emphatically from his first moment as Bishop of Rome (as he calls himself, rather than “Supreme Pontiff”). When an aide tried to drape the pretentious papal robe over his shoulders for his first presentation to the people after his election, he said, “Finita la comedia! The circus is over!” And in his own life he has refused, as much as possible, all special treatment and protocol attached to the papal office. (However, he has not forbidden the pretentious red sashes worn by the “higher clergy” who surround him; he is a leader who prefers to govern by example rather than edict).
Do I choose to follow his example in my own life? Do I choose to let Jesus change my mind about acceptance from others?
Pray: “Lord, ‘No one is good but God alone.’ Make me good through union with you” (see Mark 10:18).
Practice: As much as possible, stop people from giving you signs of respect based on your position or social standing.
Discuss: Should we treat anyone as “better” or “higher” than anyone else?