Ordinary Time 22, Year C
- He humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:8)
There are Christians who vehemently denounce homosexuals, lesbians, prostitutes and others they take to be public sinners and traitors. The invective of some of these Christians takes the form of name-calling. A few of them even went beyond name-calling and engaged in lynching, murder, rape, beating, tar-and-feathering, whipping and vandalism. And in the case of several who became leaders, when they could no longer be on the offensive, they became defensive to the point of leading their congregation into mass-suicide.
Could it be that certain gospel passages have provided such Christians with some justification? An example could be Mat. 23 where we find, among other things, Jesus calling opponents “serpents” and “brood of vipers.” And Jn. 2:13-17 could be another, which recounts that Jesus fashioned a whip out of cords, drove out of the temple area all sellers and their sheep and oxen, spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables (cf. also Matt. 21:12-13; Mk. 11:15-18; Lk. 19:45-46). Moreover, could not Mt. 18:7-9, or Mk. 9:43-47, and Mt. 10:28 have served as the inspiration for a congregational leader, suddenly at the center of a cult of personality, to propose that there was no other defensive option left but mass-suicide, which would also serve as the ultimate test of the kind of loyalty implicitly demanded by Lk.14:26?
I find very upsetting the thought that there are those who could mislead me and so many others into thus misconstruing gospel passages. But I try to keep calm, and I find it helpful to remember Jesus saying in Mt. 7:15-16: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them.”
By looking at the fruits they bear, I should be able tell Jesus and those who genuinely preach him, on the one hand, from the false prophets and the presumptuous pretenders, on the other. One fruit I should look for and consider to be an unmistakable sign of genuineness is humility.
Jesus bore the fruit of obedient humility that reached its lowest depths in the cross. Humility sets Jesus apart from the prideful preachers who sooner or later end up self-destructing without their wanting it.
Humility sets St. Vincent de Paul apart, too, along with other saints. St. Vincent de Paul was humble even when, out of a sense of duty, he had to give a severe admonition. Correcting a brother, for instance, St. Vincent in part told him (cf. J. Delarue, The Holiness of Vincent de Paul [London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1960]):
- Brother, I am just as guilty of this as you are, for not
- having given you sound advice. Can I talk about it?
- I must swallow my confusion, just as much as you must,
- for I am guilty. Brother, the day before yesterday you
- drank to excess, to such an extent that it was obvious
- when you came back. Oh Saviour, to take too much wine
- until everyone could see. To go on like a drunk!
- Oh wretch! It is I, sinner that I am, who am the cause
- of this, and it couldn’t have happened without the sins
- of this wretched man. Oh brother! We must both be
- covered with shame about this.
St. Vincent was surely not like those invited to the wedding banquet who were choosing the places of honor at the table. He would rather take the lowest place and leave to the host to decide where to seat him. He understood that a servant of Jesus couldn’t possibly be greater than the master and would have no choice but to boast only in the cross of the Lord (Jn. 15:20; Gal. 6:14).
The cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, needless to say, necessarily implies humility as well as the selflessness that makes someone who would do a good deed to seek out only the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, that is to say, those who are not able to repay him. In this cross, the antithesis of the tree that was instrumental in man’s downfall, is fulfilled the saying, “Every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” And the blood of the new covenant staining the cross speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.
They are not really eloquent and convincing, then, those learned declarations deeming rightful office conferred by God something to be grasped at, and claiming primacy, absolute truth and position of special distinction for those who issue them, while severely denouncing the errors and the defects of not a few. More eloquent and convincing than such categorical affirmations of truth and vehement denunciations of error, I believe, is a Christian’s humble and repentant recognition that, since the gospel is primarily addressed to Christians, not to scribes and Pharisees, it warns Christians of the hypocrisy and pride they could fall prey to and which make for divisive mutual condemnation and excommunication, distrust and invective, violence and wrongful death.