Do As I Do
Of all of the evils that Jesus confronted, one of the greatest was the evil of hypocrisy. His strongest language was directed at hypocrites; they provoked his greatest anger. During my time as a priest, the greatest damage to our Church has been the sexual abuse scandal, and the cloud of hypocrisy that surrounded it.
Readings for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
In the First Reading (Malachi 1:14b-2:2b,8-10) the prophet Malachi has some very tough words. Malachi was one of God’s most famous prophets. He condemned the priests of his time for their infidelity. He threatened to curse them if they didn’t listen. Jesus goes on to do the same to the scribes and the Pharisees. Throughout the centuries Catholicism, has at times, been called “the sinner’s Church.” Don’t you think that’s quite the opposite of a compliment? - But is it really? God sent His Son in order to save us. We are all sinners and therefore we need God’s saving grace and redeeming love. That’s the basis of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Jesus and the Sinner
Througout the Gospels and Letters in the New Testament you can’t help but notice that Jesus didn’t have a problem with sinners, his greatest problem was with the religious leaders of his time. I am not referring of course to all religious leaders, just the hypocrites.
And today my friends? Don’t we have religious leaders who follow their own agenda, neglecting the needs and suffering of people? Religious leaders who live a fat, comfortable life whose complacency– over a period of time - would anger Jesus if he were around today? Leaders like our Nuncio Gullickson and his friends Cardinals Burke and Müller who have publically criticized the very authority that appointed them; Leaders who fight against every evolution and signs of the times. This mentality hinders the forward movement of our Church –they prefer to sit back, relish and reminisce about conservative traditions and life styles. The tradition of the Catholic Church is to always move forward and progress while preserving her traditions and teachings, at the same time meeting the modern needs of God’s people.
Picture an angry Jesus, today, turning over tables and chasing away the crooks in the Church.
Hypocrisy and Religious Leaders
Jesus was quite clear when it came to the hypocrisy of the religious leaders and he didn’t mince words (Matthew 23:1-12). It was this, perhaps more than anything else that got him killed. Jesus exposed them to the people who came under their authority. In response to Jesus, they planned and orchestrated his death. Hypocrisy isn’t found just among clergy. Scandal isn’t reserved just to the Church. The news today is filled with stories of people criticizing one party for doing what they are secretly guilty of. Does it ring a bell? …… Who is the bigger liar? The accused or the accuser? The latest reports out of Hollywood are shocking to say the least. At times I am tempted to just put the newspaper down and not turn on the television.
Public figures are often crucified with accusations before they have been charged. Who am I to judge? Is it really our duty to be the judges? Wouldn’t that make us no better than the hypocrites? I’ve heard people say that one of the reasons they don’t go to church anymore is because it’s filled with people who think they are holy but the way they live and work is anything but holy. We need to recognize that people who are quick to accuse others are probably guilty of something themselves. History has shown us this time and time again. We are all familiar with the saying: people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw rocks.
Today’s moral standards are set so high that none of us can live up to them – unless we turn to God for help. But isn’t that the point? Before we can do that, we have to admit that there is a tremendous gap between what we are and who we ought to be. In order to do this we must:
1. Recognize the truth about ourselves.
2. Ask for God’s mercy.
3. Make some drastic changes.
In Chapter 7 of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus gives clear instructions about judging others. We set the standard of our personal judgement by our own conduct toward others. You know, there’s one big difference between a saint and a sinner. It’s this: The saintly person keeps on trying - humbly admitting that only God is holy. The saint tries to be sincere, tries not to wear a mask or be pretentious. The saintly person tries to walk the Christian walk and not simply talk the talk. The saint takes the old saying of “Do as I say and not as I do”, turns it around and says: “Do as I do, not as I say”. Have you ever heard a saintly person demand things of others that they don’t demand of themselves?
Where's The Problem?
The problem that Jesus faced with the Pharisees in his time and even some religious leaders today, is that they put heavy, impossible demands onto others without lifting a finger to help them or even recognize their needs. Aren’t we sometimes guilty of the same thing? Sometimes we place high expectations on someone, holding them to extremely high standards in solving human problems without lifting a finger to help solve those problems ourselves. It’s easy to point the finger at someone else and accuse them of being the problem. It’s another thing to look at yourself and admit that you are actually a big part of the problem.
A Sinner's Church
Yes brothers and sisters, we are a sinners’ church. And we can be proud of it! Yes, our pews are filled with people who don’t live up to the high standards and expectations God imposes upon us. And, yes, we are here to humbly confess our sins and ask God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves – to forgive us because we cannot forgive ourselves.
Aren’t we lucky to have a God who cares, loves us and takes us as we are?
Friends, we need to humbly admit that with God’s loving and gracious help, we will try to live the saintly life. We will try to live as Jesus taught; we will try to walk the Christian talk and do as we say. Let’s not give up brothers and sisters, even when we can’t bare the news reports of the day. Even when all fingers point to us and life seems unfair. Let’s shorten that gap between who we are and who God wants us to be. Ask for God’s mercy. Do the inner work. And make the changes. Together we can do it. The cross gives us hope. The person nailed to it believes in us.