Friday, April 1, 2011

Trivializing Redemption

There is always a temptation within us to revert to self-righteousness, to point the fingers at the real or imagined sins of others while neglecting the "weightier matters of the law," which the Master said are "justice, mercy and faithfulness" (Mt. 23:23).

How easy it is to judge, how easy to trust in our own piety, in our attendance at liturgy or in other ritual observances (click) as if that alone made us good or holy. And how easy it is for us to be self-deceived.

Trivializing the Sermon on the Mount: Why is it, I read someone asking, that so much of the Sermon on the Mount is treated as though its beatitudes and spiritual prescriptions are unattainable and impractical? Think of the matter of wars, think of not judging others while upholding the Truth; think of the warnings against greed and exploitation and self-righteousness; think of His calling for simplicity, even voluntary poverty and generosity towards all neighbors...But "Now as in days gone by," this person wrote, "the chief sins of humanity are reduced [by some] to the bedroom and not the battlefields," as if those sins, often sins of weakness when committed by ordinary people, were the only serious practical sins one should be most ashamed of and confess. Are we not out of all balance in that?

Neither do I condemn you...go and sin no moreAnd yet Jesus, the Master and Suffering Servant of Israel (click), unlike so many of the Pharisees, was not so. He refused to cast the first stone when urged. His Woes (click) did not target the weak but the strong, the arrogant, the truly wicked...

The Lord did not trivilize redemption and reshift all focus to human weakness, foolishness, or what have you. Whether it was a woman at a well (a woman!), another caught in adultery, or a man next to him on the cross, the Lord begrudged forgiveness to none who sought it. How tender he was to human weakness---and yet how fearfully severe He was to human cunning in the service of wickedness.

The Gospels show us this balance. But did the Spanish Inquisition (as if exile rather than execution were not an option for very real subverters of the nation?) Did Luther's later vicious persecution of the peasant-poor? Or Calvin's reversion to a talmudic theocratic exaltation of usury at the expense of the same who time and again suffered under that yoke?


In recent times the servant of God, Dorothy Day, like so many saints throughout history, recalibrated the balance for us in the most critical way. And the Second Vatican Council followed her in this in no small measure. She reminded us that human wickedness, far more than human weakness, is likely to result in the deaths of millions, in genocide and ecocide, the very death of the earth. And so she, with Peter Maurin, reminded us we had better reprioritize and return to the Gospels, the Good News, where we learn the distinction between weakness and wickedness that Jesus came into the world to teach.

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