If we examine the Gospel we will see that OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST disregarded labels and saw the heart of the person, to the consternation of many of the people around Him. The people living in the place and time that He walked the earth were very quick to judge people by their labels and ignore that these were human beings with their own unique personalities, wounds and sins. In those souls whom his compatriots condemned He saw human beings created in HIS image and likeness, marred and wounded by sin and "sheep without a shepherd" in dire need of His healing, forgiveness, preaching and teaching.
The tax collectors were hated traitors who worked for the oppressive Roman rulers and often took a sizable commission that compounded the sin with their own greed and disregard for the plight of the poor, but JESUS looked at Levi, the tax collector, and he immediately left his table, came and followed JESUS, brought some of his friends with him, and became the great apostle/evangelist Matthew. Many women of His time were caught in prostitution and adultery, but one woman saw in the eyes and heard in the words of JESUS such mercy, compassion, love & forgiveness that she came & washed His feet with her tears, and a woman caught in adultery in danger from stoning by the mob heard JESUS' words, "Neither do I condemn you. Go your way and sin no more." The Samaritans were the enemies of the Jews because they were the descendants of Jewish people who had intermarried with Gentile pagans (forbidden by the Law)—most likely during the Assyrian captivity of Israel—and whose practice of Judaism was contaminated by pagan practices. But JESUS stopped at the well and asked a woman of Samaria for a drink of water, gently confronted her sin, and she became the town evangelist saying, “Come see a man who told me everything I’ve ever done; could He not be the Messiah!” And He told the parable of the Good Samaritan to demonstrate what loving our neighbor really means and that treating people with compassion is more important than a label and that one’s perceived “enemy” could actually be a better person than one’s kinsman. The Gentiles in JESUS’ time were pagans who worshiped false gods and engaged in immoral practices in their worship, but JESUS delivered the daughter of the Canaanite woman and healed the servant of the Roman centurion.
Ironically the people who wound up being the enemies of JESUS, the people who sharply criticized Him and were partially responsible for His Crucifixion, and the people for whom JESUS reserved His sharpest criticism, in contrast to His gentle compassion and forgiveness for those who were obvious “sinners”, were the so-called “religious leaders”. These “religious leaders” were so angry and so focused on pointing out the evils of their time and the sins of everyone around them and so self-righteous, that they forgot that they, too, were sinners in need of a Savior. They forgot that when we point the finger at another, the rest of our fingers point in the opposite direction—back at ourselves. They were so busy and consumed with fighting evil that they didn’t realized that some of that evil had been absorbed into their own character. They were so caught up in protecting the “purity” of their religion by keeping not only the Law but a lot of human traditions that they made up to “protect” the Law and glorifying those human traditions that they got so angry when JESUS cast the human traditions aside for the sake of healing, mercy and compassion. So when JESUS “violated the Sabbath” by healing the sick and those with disabilities on the Sabbath and when He ate with tax collectors and sinners not to join in their sin but to draw them back to God—“watch out, JESUS”! The original intent of the Pharisees was good—they wanted to be holy and wanted to preserve the purity of their Jewish faith—but they got so caught up with the baggage of their human traditions and with attacking evil and pointing out the sinners that their souls became ugly with hatred and their hearts became hardened—so hardened that even the compassionate love and holiness of JESUS couldn’t reach many of them until after His Resurrection, when some were converted.
There are many causes in our modern world in which we must engage in battle—primarily the fight to protect the unborn and others most vulnerable, the fight to protect the sanctity of marriage as ordained by God as the union of one man with one woman in a faithful, loving and chaste exclusive commitment from various forms of sexual immorality and attempts to redefine marriage to include immoral relationships, and the fight for free exercise of our faith both in worship and in our everyday lives. But we have to be careful that in focusing so much on fighting evil we do not absorb the evil that we are trying to fight, that we don’t get so absorbed in hating the sin that we allow this to spill over into hatred for the sinner, that we get so “militant” that we fail to grow in the Gospel of peace.
There is an old wives’ tale that women who are pregnant should avoid looking at anything evil, ugly or scary or else that evil, ugliness or scariness will be transmitted to the baby she is carrying. As Christians we are not to battle in the manner of the world, the flesh or the devil but with spiritual armor and with the power, love and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, and we are to overcome evil with GOOD. There is some truth to the notion that we become what we look upon and the object of our focus. So if we are always focusing on what is evil and nasty, we, too, can become nasty, angry and evil. The Pharisees got so enmeshed in preserving their human traditions and criticizing and judging the sins and infractions of those around them that they became angry, ugly, critical, judgmental hypocrites who were unable to recognize God in the flesh, our Messiah, Savior and LORD JESUS CHRIST.
In the letter to the Hebrews we are exhorted to “keep our eyes fixed on JESUS, the Author and Completer of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1). When we keep our eyes fixed on JESUS as revealed in the Gospel and receive and adore JESUS in the Eucharist we are more inclined to emulate JESUS, to look like JESUS, to let the mind and character of JESUS shape our mind and character, and, with the grace of God received from Him through our ongoing relationship with Him, prayer, Mass and the sacraments, we gradually become conformed into His image and likeness (see Romans 8:29).
Let us, therefore, focus on JESUS and look to the Gospel. Let the Gospel be our mirror to reveal who we most resemble. Are we growing more into the likeness of JESUS, Who is full of love, grace, truth, mercy and compassion? Or are we growing more into the ugliness of the Pharisees, who were so focused on finding evil in those around them and fighting infractions of their tradition that they failed to recognize the only Perfect One and became complicit in crucifying the LORD of glory? Let us meditate on the Person of JESUS as revealed in the Gospel and commit ourselves to emulating HIS character and His mercy and tender compassion and allowing ourselves to be transformed by the Holy Spirit more and more into the image of JESUS.
© Copyright 2013 by Arlene B. Muller (Arlene Clare Muller, OSF).