Do you recall how many in Christ’s midst criticized and attacked Him during His earthly ministry? They spoke untruths about Him and sought to ridicule and discredit Him. His own disciple, Judas Iscariot, betrayed Him.
Sometimes, we may feel the same is happening to us, to a family member, or to a friend. Certainly, the diverse views of others may disturb us and that is to be expected. They appear different from our own and we feel uneasy or threatened. At times, we read a story on social media or hear news that makes us feel uncomfortable. It may cause us to dismiss or even dislike another. Rather than checking further to ensure proper understanding or seeking to resolve our perceived conflict, we find it easier to condemn another’s views and actions. We brand them as cruel. We accuse them of being hate-mongers.
In today’s world, it appears easy to respond with intolerance after hearing the viewpoints of others. All too often, we are tempted to interpret their messages and actions as unfriendly… as hateful… as criticism… and even as personal attacks. In extreme cases, some might use their reasoning as justification to incite distrust, harm, and even bodily violence. These situations breed unhealthy division, distrust, and disgust. Those who behave this way lose healthy and rational reasoning and boundaries; they succumb to irrational thoughts. Their unhealthy actions can endanger the lives of others and result in the destruction of others’ livelihoods and property.
During our Sunday Lunches during Great Lent, what if we as God’s children consciously reminded our families and friends that we are called to renew ourselves in the image of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Why not prompt each other to use Great Lent as an opportunity to seek fellowship and unity in God’s Holy Body. We could start by examining our relationship with God and then with each other. In seeking God’s will to help us search our own hearts, we could choose to reach out to those we have found it easier to keep at a distance. We could ask for God’s strength and the help of our clergy and brothers and sisters in Christ, to overcome our temptations to deprive ourselves and others of God’s fellowship and unity… whether knowingly or unknowingly.
As His children, Jesus Christ calls each of us to exemplify integrity and respect in the face of opposition in our world. For better or worse, much of today’s “news” reveals the distance from God and each other that we sometimes place in our relationships. Our Orthodox Church interprets Christ’s teachings as instructing us to “love the sinner” but “hate the sin.” In fact, St. Paul reinforces the intimate relationship we have with each other, with God, and with His Heavenly and eternal Kingdom in the following Scriptural passage:
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. In Him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in Whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God. (Eph. 2:19-22)
It’s true, not everyone professes this Christian understanding. You and I are called by God to learn our Lord’s teachings and put them into practice. In so doing, we grow stronger in our faith and love for our Savior, Jesus Christ. Likewise, we grow closer as brothers and sisters in our Lord. Is it easy? No, not hardly. But what if during Great Lent, we re-examined our conscience in light of St. Paul’s message above. What if we intentionally sought to live our lives as “the household of God” and “with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone”? What if before we speak, or write, or respond to one another, we ask ourselves:
Will what I am about to do bring honor to my fellow “citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone”? (Eph. 2:19-20)
Imagine the impact we could make in our world if we willfully choose to mend and strengthen our relationships with each other during Great Lent. What would stop us, or what harm would come to us by continuing this attitude for the rest of the year… for the rest of our lives…? Undeniably, it’s hard to imagine!
How might I succeed with such an effort? Frankly, I believe it starts with each one of us and not someone else. The television program “60 Minutes” once reported on a widely circulated sensational weekly paper and interviewed people who were buying the paper at grocery-store checkout counters. “Do you believe what you read in this paper?” the reporter asked. “No,” came the reply, “but we like to read it anyway.” Sadly, gossip holds a strange fascination for all of us.
During his last year in office, Winston Churchill attended an official ceremony. Several rows behind him two gentlemen began whispering, “That’s Winston Churchill. They say he is getting senile. They say he should step aside and leave the running of the nation to more dynamic and capable men.” When the ceremony ended, Mr. Churchill turned to the men and said, “Gentlemen, they also say he is deaf!”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, I finish with a simple question: “Was Mr. Churchill’s humble response so difficult to choose?” In truth, when we decide on Christ’s framework to decide what to think, say, or do, our choices become clear and simple.
In [Christ Jesus] the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in Whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God. (Eph. 2:21-22) AMEN!