Fr. Charles Irvin
23rd Sun [A] 2014
Ezekiel 33:7-9; Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 18:15-20
Asking the right question is always critical if we want arrive at good answers to what it is we seek or to the problems we face. With that in mind I want to ask us today: How much of your life and mine is governed by “we” and how much is it governed by “me?” That question is fundamental in our lives. Do I arrive at answers and base my decisions all by myself or with others? Do I live my life alone or with others?
We need to see that all of life comes from God. We are made in God’s image and likeness. That being so we need to pay attention to the fundamental truth that God is a community of Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each with their own characteristics but at the same time in mutual interdependency. Being excessively independent is not Godly.
At times we see ourselves and make our choices as autonomous individuals, accountable to no one else, all by ourselves. But isn’t it true that this attitude many times causes us trouble? Examine your life and see whether or not the “going it alone” approach has generally speaking led you into unhappiness and pain.
Living in interdependency with others isn’t something we have easily acquired. When we were little children we had learn to put aside words like “my,” “me,” and “mine.” In our teen years we struggled with self-centeredness while at the same time seeking to belong. Then we had to figure out to whom we wanted to belong. Some people have never adequately answered that question even on into their adult lives. Who am I? How do others see me? Am I popular? Am I attractive? Do others like to be around me?
And what about criticism, especially when I am the person being criticized. For some of us, any criticism is devastating. Actually, if we want to excel, we should seek out people whom we respect and ask them evaluate, to criticize and mentor us. The sad truth is that many of us never really figure out who we really are, where and with whom we belong, and what our lives are really all about.
Jesus has answers for us but many people, for a number of reasons, want to “go it alone.” Theirs is a “me and God” religion and declare that their relationship with God is nobody else’s business. The great danger is that they thereby make God over into their own image and likeness. Doing so, they throw belonging overboard. When it comes to God, there’s no “we” in their lives. That is why our Church is all about belonging.
When it comes to living out life with others problems inevitably result. Selfish Individualism, egoism, and the lust to control others can surface. Such was the case in early Christian communities. Such is still the case today. Factions, backbiting, jealousies can be found in our parish families as well as in our own personal families. Cynicism, disillusionment, loss of trust, worm their way into our parish lives. Much of the content of St. Paul’s epistles is directed at such things, along with suggestions he made on how to resolve differences. Because he loved them he did not hesitate criticize them. Isn’t today’s Gospel reading all about that? St. Paul put that teaching of Jesus into practice.
Criticism is important for our growth, criticism however that is motivated out of care and concern. Coaches criticize their athletes. Teachers, good teachers, criticize their students. All who want to excel and grow actually welcome and even seek out criticism. This is something those who “go it alone” miss. They don’t grow. They don’t excel. Receiving loving criticism is one of the great benefits we receive when we belong to others in mutual, shared living. God’s blessings come to us in that way.
Criticism that is harsh, negative, and belittling defeats the very purpose of Christian living. It is damaging not only to the one criticized but also undermines what Jesus is all about. He seeks growth, not diminishment. He wants to build us up, not put us down. How sad it is to see one Christian group belittling or condemning other Christian groups. How sad it is to see one Christian spouse belittling or condemning his or her wife or husband. Tearing down is not building up the Christian family. Why would anyone who is thinking about becoming a Christian want to join us if they are seeing that in how we relate to others?
Our modern mentality is such that far too many people overlook the fact that God is a God of justice. He has standards. He has norms for how we should behave. We cannot allow ourselves to believe that God accepts any and every human behavior. That is the sin of presumption. It is true that God is infinitely merciful and forgiving, but He is not so open-minded that He is empty headed. There are human actions and attitudes that are intolerable, actions that usually flow from those who live in the “me” mentality rather than the “we” mentality. This means that at all times we much love others enough to give them mentoring and caring criticism so that we can all live together in peace and justice together in God’s family. It also means that we criticize others we do so with caring hearts. Finger-wagging and belittling never work. Only love works.
St. John, The Apostle of Love, famously put it this way:
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. (John 3:17)
You are sent in Jesus’ name to do just that.