Jesus reminds us time and again that arguing among ourselves just creates division. A house divided cannot stand. One of the greatest charges against Christians these days is "If that's how Christians act, I don't want to be one." The other day I was walking down Washington Street here in our little town. Two men were yelling at each other, one up on a balcony, the other on the ground. Angry words were being exchanged riddled with vulgarity and threats. At one point the man on the balcony yelled, "Yeah you're being real Christian aren't you." Turns out the guy down on the ground was a minister of some sort. Would anyone have known that by his behavior? How often do I set that own example? Too often I myself would be the guy on the ground, angry with the man shouting down at me, likely responding in kind.
There are though some things which are worth standing up for. Paul, in our readings today, also reminds us that we must "be eager to present yourself as acceptable to God, a workman who causes no disgrace, imparting the word of truth without deviation." We cannot change the truth, we cannot alter the Gospel to go with the times or with our desires. It is a message that does not belong to us, but rather belongs to God. We have no right to change it and Paul is quick to say that even if an angel were to come and give you a different Gospel we should not believe it. How then do we go about walking that line of choosing our battles but always offering the truth? By offering the truth in love. "They will know we are Christians by our love." Does society see that today? Do they find us loving and welcoming? Or hateful and condemning? We have to choose our battles for sure. Sometimes the fight will produce no love. Sometimes the person is not open to it, and we should leave it be. No use "throwing pearls before swine", right? But in all things, show love.
Jesus reminds us of that in the Gospel for today. That the greatest commandments are to love God with everything that you are, and to love your neighbor as you love yourself. That is to want good for them, to offer good to them, to pray for good for them. Loving someone does not always mean condoning their behavior or giving them anything and everything they want. It does mean though being tactful. Seeking to find the best way to reach them with an offer to know who Christ is. Sometimes that means using our words, and other times it means using our actions. I know, this is a perfect time to use that cliche saying attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi.. and I am going to. "Preach at all times the Gospel, and when necessary, use words." Just don't forget that Saint Francis used a lot of words!
2518 The sixth beatitude proclaims, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." "Pure in heart" refers to those who have attuned their intellects and wills to the demands of God's holiness, chiefly in three areas: charity; chastity or sexual rectitude; love of truth and orthodoxy of faith. There is a connection between purity of heart, of body, and of faith:
- The faithful must believe the articles of the Creed "so that by believing they may obey God, by obeying may live well, by living well may purify their hearts, and with pure hearts may understand what they believe."
The other thing that I think is so important about the encounter between Jesus and the Pharisee in the Gospel for today is that Jesus tells him "You are not far from the Kingdom of God." I wonder if those men years later realized the irony of that statement. There this man was speaking to God himself, face to face with Jesus who is the embodiment of the Kingdom of God, and his eyes were closed. Love itself sat looking at Him and said to Him, "I am right here before you." Then like most of us, they were scared to ask anymore questions. How often we become dumbfounded when we realize something profound is happening in front of us. What would you do if God were to stand before you right now, at this very moment and say "Here I am. You are so close to being a part of my Kingdom.. just come forward and receive it."
It happens every day at Mass. Christ comes down body and soul before you on the altar. The ministers come forth and elevate this defenseless host before you, and declare "This is the body of Christ." There it is, the Kingdom of God.. right in front of you... heaven kissing earth. Christ offering himself to you, the fullness of love, to help you grow and become the person you are called to be. Do we like the Pharisee of the moment sit in silence unable to ask more? Or do we say "Here I am Lord, speak, Your servant is listening."?
2519 The "pure in heart" are promised that they will see God face to face and be like him. Purity of heart is the precondition of the vision of God. Even now it enables us to see according to God, to accept others as "neighbors"; it lets us perceive the human body - ours and our neighbor's - as a temple of the Holy Spirit, a manifestation of divine beauty.
His servant and yours,
"He must increase, I must decrease."