Choices

Every day we are faced with choices; some of the most dangerous options can seem the most attractive.

Matthew 23:1-12
as interpreted by Deborah

Jesus told his hearers, “The religious scholars and the Pharisees know their stuff: if they cite a Bible passage, you can be sure it’s in there; in that they can be relied upon. Their behavior, however, is a different story: they don’t practice what they preach.

“They devise weighty obligations and impose them on others — and make no effort to lighten the demands.

“Their ‘faith’ is mere performance art: they love to dress in fancy clothes, to swan around at parties, be coddled and catered to, and treated like celebrities.

“That’s not the way to be. Don’t get caught up with titles and degrees and worldly honors. No one is superior to another: you have one Teacher, and you are all students.

“And as far as name and pedigree — prince or pauper, it makes no difference; everyone has the same Father: the one in heaven. All are equally children of God.

“And don’t act like a know-it-all, as if you’ve got all the answers: there is always more to learn, there are lessons that only the Messiah can teach.

“The greatest among you will serve others.

“All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and the humble will be exalted.”

Photo of a flower

Reflection by Deborah Beach Giordano
November 6, 2017

As if Drawn from Today’s Headlines

Jesus said, “All who exalt themselves will be humbled,
and the humble will be exalted.”

news mediaIt’s as if the Lord was reading the news of the past two weeks; the exalted are being humbled: powerful celebrities, movers and shakers in entertainment, media, and politics are being brought down from their lofty heights. Those who believed that status or wealth or position entitled them to do as they wished are finding out that is not so — despite a long history that convinced them otherwise.

The powerful have always been held to a different set of rules from the proletariat; often out of a fear of retaliation, sometimes in hopes of reward. If speaking out might result in violence redirected my way, chances are I’ll keep quiet; if I help the mighty noble to keep his dirty secret, one day he may do a kindness for me. Either way, my silence contributes to the exalted one’s sense of invincibility and further minimizes the likelihood that wicked conduct will be challenged or evil deeds be found out.

And then no one is safe.

As frightening and risky as it can be to speak out against exploiters and abusers, to do anything less is to be complicit; it is to give aid and comfort to the evil-doer. Silence allows the harm to continue, the damage to go unchecked, and tilts the arc of history toward injustice. It causes the wicked to prosper and the innocent to suffer.

And it is bad for peoples’ souls.

Honestly

Seriously. I mean it.

Power is like a drug; like alcohol. A lot of these previously exalted people are “hitting bottom” as many alcoholics believe is necessary in order to embrace sobriety. Some will refuse to recognize it as a problem, and some will return to their addiction, but for others this can serve as a wake-up call: they may come to see the hurt they have inflicted upon others and recognize the destructive culture they have helped to build, and, lastly and most important, how decayed and ugly their souls have become.

To speak out against the abuse of power does more than rescue the vulnerable and protect those who might later come to harm; it serves to call those who have done wrong to account. It gives the evil-doers a chance to repent: to recognize and regret the harm they have done, to seek to make restitution; to change from what they have been into the best that they can be. It is part of the Christian theology of hope to believe that there exists in every human soul a spark of divine grace and goodness that is never extinguished — though it may be dimmed and flickering.

Beyond Prison and Punishment

medieval Lady JusticeToo often we are ensnared by our notions of right and wrong, of fair and foul, of “justice” from a worldly standpoint. The wicked must be punished; evil-doers have to suffer, there’s got to be pay-back — lasting, scarring, permanent; only then will all be right with the world. But as Christians we are to think and hope and believe beyond that: for us there is something More Than merely crime and punishment. There is redemption.

There is always hope that lives may be changed for the better. There is always the possibility of healing and restoration — for all humanity: the good and the bad.

Jesus wasn’t kidding when He told His followers, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:44). It is part of the work of building the Kingdom of Heaven: igniting compassion and lovingkindness in as many hearts as possible — including our own.

A Different Sort of Addiction

Yes, even us: we, too, are at risk. Anger can be every bit as addictive as power, and equally corrupting and corrosive to the soul.

poison warning

Each day, each hour, we are incited: articles and emails, tweets and news reports inundate us with causes for outrage and alarm. The innocent are exploited, attacked, killed, and wounded — as defenseless as lambs to the slaughter — while the perpetrators go unpunished, and we are frightened and angry. It isn’t right, it isn’t fair; we frown and fuss, shout and shake our heads. Our bloodstreams surge with adrenalin; our hearts race, our faces flush, and we feel suddenly alive.

It’s addictive, this giddy thrill of fear, anger, and resentment. A few small samples — and soon we are hooked. Without our daily fix we grow anxious and edgy and peevish: surely there must be some new outrage to be shocked about.

If we were alcoholics, we’d be drinking fingernail polish.

We’ve forgotten what it is to be “clean and sober.” We’ve forgotten what it is to be calm and compassionate Christians. We’re so intoxicated by the culture of outrage and fear that we are blind to the call to “be still and know God.”

The Light of the Lord

There is great danger in being overwhelmed by panic or enflamed by anger. When we are running on adrenalin, we’re not walking with the Lord. Our hearts will not be in the right place.

Just as we are called to believe that every soul may be redeemed, so, too, may our whole world be redeemed. Do we not pray that it may be “on earth as it is in heaven”? We must not lose faith, nor hope, nor lose our balance.

Terrible disasters occur, heart-rendingly cruel and evil deeds are done, the power-mad act with apparent impunity. But Jesus’ life and ministry showed us that there is More Than that: there is goodness, kindness, and compassion. Yes, there are murderous rages, evil acts, grievous suffering — and there is love: lasting, radiant love that lights even the darkest times, that comforts, blesses, and heals; a Light that cannot be extinguished.

Will we succumb to the lure of poison — or drink from the Fount of Life?

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah 

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Follow the Way of the Lord. Choose compassion.