Friday, March 13, 2015

Day 24: Humility not Humiliation

George Will once declared "There is no growth industry in this country like the manufacture of synthetic indignation." And indeed, we often use this indignation as an excuse to publicly humiliate people with whom we disagree.

Today's gospel is perhaps the very heart of the gospel, Mark's (the oldest gospel) version of the two great commandments.

The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.

We all know the text, but how much attention do we pay to the context.

The person with whom Jesus is having this conversation is one of the scribes. Normally when we think of the scribes and Pharisees we think of them as the enemies of Jesus. And it is possible that this scribe did come and ask the question with malicious intent, trying to trip Jesus up. But Jesus practices what he preaches. He not only tells us to love our neighbor; he shows us.

Jesus responds by saying:

You are not far from the Kingdom of God.

A sentence that is loving. A sentence with a double meaning. On the one hand the scribe is physically not far from the Christ. On the other hand, he is not far from truly understanding Jesus's message.

Instead of attacking the scribe and pointing out what he doesn't know, or where the scribes as a group are wrong, Jesus affirms the good that is there. He focuses not on their points of disagreement but on their points of agreement. Jesus see the spark of recognition of the truth in the scribe. And while as a group they will still plot his death, Jesus shows respect for the dignity of the one in front of him at the moment.

If we look to the woman caught in adultery (Jn 8), a crime punishable by death, "Jesus tells her to go and sin no more." But he says this in private, after the crowd has left. He does not take her to task in front of the crowd.

It is far too easy for any of us to stand hundreds of miles away, and condemn people we have never met. And now with the Internet you might even manage to garner your 15 mins of fame. But will you have loved your neighbor? While we must humble ourselves, we should never strive to humiliate another no matter how vehemently we disagree with them.

Jesus never tells us to condone sin but he tell us that if our brother sins against us we are to first go and tell him alone (μόνου). (Mt. 18:15), not post it on the Internet. Jesus welcomed sinners. He ate with them, in his time a sign of respect. Should we not do the same?