Thursday, March 30, 2017

Be Neither Deterred Nor a Deterrent

By Colleen O’Sullivan

The wicked said among themselves, thinking not aright: “Let us beset the just one.” (Wisdom 2:1a, 12a)

When the just cry out, the Lord hears them, and from all their distress he rescues them. (Psalm 34:18)

But when his brothers had gone up to the feast, he himself also went up, not openly but as it were in secret.  Some of the inhabitants of Jerusalem said, “Is he not the one they are trying to kill? (John 7: 10, 25)

Many are the troubles of the just man,
But out of them all the Lord delivers him. (Psalm 34:20)

In the depths of the muddy cistern, the prophet Jeremiah knew it.  Having barely escaped death at the hands of his brothers and finding himself the captive of a group of Ishmaelite traders, Joseph knew it.  The just man referred to in today’s reading from the Book of Wisdom knew it.  Jesus, as he traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles with his disciples, knew it.  If we are truly living lives of faith, you and I know it as well.   Leading a life pleasing to God doesn’t guarantee the admiration or approval of family or friends or anyone else, for that matter.  In fact, Jesus had warned the disciples that following in his footsteps would likely result in persecution, suffering, and maybe even death.

There was never anyone more faithful to the Father than Jesus.  He had many friends and followers, to be sure.  But, ultimately, his preaching, teaching, and healing won him a humiliating death on a cross, the same fate meted out to the worst of criminals in Jesus’ day.

Why is it that the just man in the first reading is so despised?  You’d think he’d be held in high esteem.  But remember the evil spirit is always hard at work.  The evil one desires nothing more than to destroy all that is good and of God.

So, the evil spirit whispers a sort of siren song in our ears: Stick with me.  I’ll keep you happy in this life.  Look into that pool of water.  What do you see there?  That’s right, it’s you, and you are the most important person in the world. These so-called just and righteous people are a pain.   They don’t want your light to shine.  They disapprove of your lifestyle. They call themselves children of God.  How arrogant!  Their holiness is nauseating; it makes you look bad, and no one should be allowed to do that.  Those people are different from you.  You should stick with your own kind and work against these despicable do-gooders.  Stand your ground.  Don’t give an inch.

Jeremiah spoke the words God gave him, but no one wanted to hear that they were courting disaster with their sinful ways.  His words frightened them.  People don’t like being afraid, so they became angry instead and tried to kill him.

Joseph was a silly young boy, who probably didn’t have a mean bone in his body. He naively related his dreams to his siblings.  He was the apple of his father Jacob’s eye, and his brothers resented him for that.

Jesus wanted only to capture people’s hearts for God.  But the Pharisees’ hearts were full of fear that they might be knocked off their lofty pedestals as the keepers of the Law.  They were willing to do anything to protect their power, including seeing that this upstart from Nazareth was executed.

If we’re following in Jesus’ footsteps, the goal is to keep on keeping on.  It’s not always easy.  I’m sure we all have friends and family members who aren’t supportive of our journey in Christ.  They think we’re Pollyanna’s when we persist in believing the Light will overcome the darkness in our world.  They tempt us to give up spiritual practices such as abstinence from meat on Fridays in Lent.  (Do you think a lightning bolt will strike you if you eat a piece of meat?)  They come up with all sorts of weekend activities that would leave no time for Mass.  (Why do you have to go every Sunday?  Just pray at home.)  Our society as a whole hasn’t got much time for faith.

Where do you encounter resistance – in your family, among friends, at work?  Share the bumps in the road with your Cursillo group.   They’ll support you.  Spend some time sitting with Jesus asking for perseverance when the journey becomes difficult.

As I read today’s Scripture readings, I thought, too, how easy it is for any of us to demonize what we don’t understand and to find ourselves deriding others. The unbelievers in the first reading had no idea what faithful living was all about.  They felt threatened.  The Pharisees in the Gospel didn’t want things to change.  They were afraid that life would change and they wouldn’t be the powerful keepers of the Law anymore. They never once allowed for the possibility that Jesus might actually have Good News for them as well, something that would be much better than anything else they knew.  It’s good to listen and learn before we criticize someone or dismiss their beliefs and practices out of hand.

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