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Friday, fourth week of Lent

March 31, 2006

Blessed Friday!

Wisdom 2:1, 12-22 (the wicked plot to persecute the just one)
Psalm 34:17-23 “The Lord is near to broken hearts”
+John 7:1-2, 10, 25-30 (Jesus’ life is at risk)

“Can’t you just live and let live? You really do have to learn to be tolerant, you know.”

There is a place for that perspective, when the differences among people have nothing to do with morality. One person is talkative while another is quiet. One excels at sports, while another trips over their own feet. He prefers routine; she thrives on variety. It might be more convenient for us if the other person changed their ways, but we really have no right to insist. We need to learn to respect each other the way we are & make the most of our differences. One person’s strengths fill in for another’s weak points.

The trouble comes when we make this concept universal, when we start applying it to moral questions. Then what we think of as “live and let live” becomes in Reality, “live and let die”. Sin kills. “Tolerance” in a situation like this is a veiled form of negligence. We don’t care that they’re hurting themselves, and that they might succeed in committing spiritual suicide. Or, at least, we don’t care enough to risk offending them.

This isn’t the attitude of the just one. He loves his sinful neighbors too much to let them drive themselves to hell without at least trying to warn them. “…he sets himself against our doings, reproaches us for transgressions of the law, and charges us with violations of our training” (Wisdom 2:12). Jesus, the ultimate Just One, is in the same position: “The world…does hate Me because of the evidence I bring against it that what it does is evil” (John 7:7).

While it’s true that we can’t control another person’s actions, that we can’t be held responsible for another’s choices, we are responsible for informing them. Jesus tells us to go “point out his fault” when our brother sins against us (Matthew 18:15). He warned the newly-healed paralytic to give up his sins (John 5:14), and when He rescued the adulteress, He cautioned her to avoid this sin (John 8:11). St. Paul scolded the Corinthians for turning a blind eye to incest within their parish (I Corinthians 5:1-13) and exhorted the Thessalonians to admonish the unruly (I Thessalonians 5:14). James observes that the one who brings back a sinner will save his soul from death and cancel a multitude of sins (James 5:20). One of the spiritual works of mercy the Church recommends is to “admonish the sinner”*. We, like the just one, do this by our words as well as by our example.

This was no more popular back then than it is now, for the one doing the correcting or for the one being corrected. The righteous man’s sinful neighbors found him obnoxious. His very presence irritated them (Wisdom 2:14). They plotted together to test him with revilement and torture, to condemn him to a sinful death (Wisdom 2:18). The Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day plotted His death and tried to seize Him long before His actual arrest (John 7:25, 30, etc.). This does highlight the fact that any correction we’re called to do must be done in love, seeking the others’ highest good at our own expense. We’re to love the sinner enough to hate their sin. We can expect our love, our humility and our patience to be tested. We can expect to pay a heavy price for their salvation. This is another case where being able to offer up our suffering for the salvation of our persecutor comes in so handy.

At the same time, we need to make sure we’re distinguishing between correction of sin versus legitimate tolerance of personal differences. Sometimes it’s hard to tell, especially since we cannot read another’s motives–we have a hard enough time reading our own motives! If we suffer for doing evil, for pushing our own non-moral preferences, that’s our own fault (see I Peter 3:17, 4:15).

We also need to distinguish between our responsibility to deliver the message versus God’s responsibility to change hearts and our hearers’ responsibility to repent (Ezekiel 33:7-9). Even Jesus didn’t get the Pharisees to repent. Often (especially with peers or superiors) it’s best to make the point, make sure it’s been accurately understood (misunderstandings can be deadly!), and then drop it. That in itself fosters the humility and patience that are so critical in this particular expression of love. The results are not up to us. We’re not “on” to force a change. God calls us to be faithful. Success is up to Him.

May God give us the courage to love the sinner enough to point them toward salvation.

* Here’s the full list of the works of mercy:
Corporal works of mercy:
feed the hungry (Matthew 25:41)
give drink to the thirsty (Matthew 25:41)
clothe the naked (Matthew 25:41)
shelter the homeless (Matthew 25:41)
visit the sick (Matthew 25:41)
ransom the captive (Matthew 25:41, Hebrews 13:3, Luke 4:18–Jesus came to ransom captives & we’re to imitate Him)
bury the dead (Tobit 12:12-15–Tobit risked his life to bury the dead & God rewarded him for it)

Spiritual works of mercy:
instruct the ignorant (Colossians 3:15)
counsel the doubtful (I Thessalonians 5:14)
console the sorrowful (Romans 12:15)
correct the sinner (Matthew 18:15, I Thessalonians 5:14)
forgive injuries (Matthew 6:14)
bear wrongs patiently (Romans 12:12)
pray for the living & the dead (Matthew 5:44, I Timothy 2:1, James 5:16, II Maccabees 12:39-45)

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