Saturday, October 18, 2014

"Do unto others..."

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen. The Lord said, “As you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.” We are more accustomed to the version, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” a maxim dubbed The Golden Rule since at least the mid-16th century. It is said that this rule can be found in many of the world’s religions, though frequently encountered in the reverse form of, “Do not do to others what you would not want done to you.” While this is not bad, Christ’s version is clearly better, for it calls us to actively reach out and do the good to others that we might want done to ourselves. In other words, we shouldn’t just “do no harm” to others—though that’s a good start—but we should actively, proactively do good. Furthermore, our Lord went so far at to say that we must do good even to those who do not do good to us! “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?” He asked. “Love your enemies, and do good,” He insisted, “and you will be sons of the Most High.” Unfortunately, a whole lot of people seem to live by another rule: “Do unto others AS they do unto you.” Is this how we live? Are we nice to others as long as they’re nice to us, but turn on those who seem to turn on us? Do we find ways to justify our wrath, adding up all the offenses of the other—not just the latest one—until he or she begins to look like the devil incarnate? Do we ever make a pretense of forgiveness but harbor a resentment inwardly simply that rots in our souls? Sometimes people do us real harm. Even then we must find a way to forgive, perhaps with the help of intervention. Far more often however the injuries we receive from others are simply wounds to our pride and our oh-so-sensitive egos. And yes, we can be very sensitive, Being good to us in modern terms seems to mean always agreeing with us in every personal opinion, always supporting us and being sympathetic to us in every situation, always validating our thoughts and feelings with complete empathy, listening carefully and with full support. In other words, always show respect to us, and never, ever slight us in any way. Quite obviously this is nearly impossible to maintain in the real world, unless we pick our friends very carefully, loving those who love us, and excluding or even blacklisting those who simply don’t make the cut. That’s a hard thing to accomplish successfully in most parishes or anywhere else for that matter! Obviously as well, this is a far cry from what Christianity teaches us. As Christians, we are not to be so self-centered, so delicate, so sensitive of criticism, of correction, or even of rebuke. We are in fact taught to welcome all reproaches as being beneficial to our souls and instructive to our repentance. We are to understand that we are fallen, together with all our thoughts and opinions, and seek the wisdom of the Church and our elders to guide us, and the experience of normal human interaction and even struggle to bring us growth. The gospel never promises us that people—even Christian people—will always be good to us, or treat us the way we like. In fact, doesn’t it pretty much warn us that the opposite can and will happen, even in the Church? Most people treat us no better or worse than we treat others. The gospel never tells us to defend ourselves in the face of poor treatment, or that we have any right to be indignant or justify our anger over an offense. Instead it tells us to love people, to be long-suffering, patient, and forgiving. How quickly we can forget this when someone says something we don’t like, or steps on our toes, or simply isn’t as nice as we think they should be toward us. Suddenly, all Christian sensibility is abandoned and we harden our hearts toward the one that we ought to love and forgive. The reason we do this is not necessarily because of hypocrisy, but more likely because the passion of anger seizes us and we want to vindicate or justify ourselves at the expense of our offender. Nobody is ever so bold as to say, “I have the right to hate so-and-so because he insulted me!” Instead, we couch our anger in more socially-acceptable terms like, “I’m deeply concerned—and want you all to know—that so-and-so has proven to be very insensitive and doesn’t seem to realize how hurtful he can be.” My, how noble we can make ourselves seem even while we are being terribly petty! What does our Holy Orthodox faith teach us about such matters? Are we taught to merely disguise our wrath, and attack our offender discretely? Are we taught to pretend to forgive, but warmly nurse a grudge as if we were somehow the Holy Innocent, most wrongly and viciously offended? No. We are taught to blame ourselves and absolve the other person completely. Let me repeat that. We are taught to blame ourselves and absolve the other person completely. How does this solve the problem? Usually, it solves it entirely. The person who takes offense at others will never know the peace of Christ, who defended Himself against no man. The person who blames himself and never holds resentment against another, who prays “Lord have mercy upon me, and through the prayers of my brother or sister, save me, a sinner,” will gain the peace that places him above all human turmoil. We can never gain peace by defending ourselves, by trying to change people or situations or circumstances to be more to our liking. We can only gain peace by dying to ourselves, and by loving every other human being far more than we love ourselves. Is this even possible? Yes, it is. The moment we decide to take the very next conflict with another, and instead of defending ourselves, accept it as an opportunity for repentance, we are on our way. Do we truly love others with the love of Christ, or do we love ourselves above Christ and all others? This is never revealed in the good times, but in those difficult times when we must lay aside our hurt or disappointment, and put love with warmth and true compassion to work for our brother or sister who has offended us. “Love your enemies and do good, and you will be sons of the Most High.” +To the Glory of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.