Maybe I'm Wrong
Last November and December, we held two sessions of the “Synod on Synodality” in our pastorate. While that sounds like jaunty church-speak (and it is), this synod was simply an opportunity for us as a Church to listen – listen to people in the pews, and listen to people who are rarely, if ever, here. I found it fascinating and enlightening; and as I listen to what others have heard in their experiences of the Synod, I continue to be impressed. We heard about what we were or weren’t doing well in our catechesis programs; we heard how important community and fellowship was to so many people; we heard how politics has infected our Church and driven people away; we heard how Church stances on social issues and a tacit (and not-so-quiet) judgment of so-called “sinners” has made many, many people simply stay away.
Now, we were not going to solve all the Church’s problems with these meetings here in Anne Arundel County. There is a lot of work to be done yet. However, if many people have a similar experience, then maybe there is something to the critiques that we receive. Maybe there is room to grow, to reassess, and even to change in order to better reflect what Christ has taught us. Maybe the problem is not just “kids these days,” or the culture, or anything external. Maybe the problem is us.
Jesus continues his programmatic teaching in the “Sermon on the Plain.” He teaches the difficult challenge of loving our enemies and those who are different. Then He hits us with a real tough one: “Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.” Does this jab you? Do you feel your conscience being jostled a little? Aren’t we all guilty of judgmentalism and prejudice from time to time? This is one of the most common criticisms that I hear of “religious” people from those who stay away – that and hypocrisy.
It’s important for us to remember that Jesus is not simply laying out a program here. When Jesus teaches, He is giving us Himself. He is presenting Himself as the model and the fulfilment of the Word. When we find ourselves criticized by others, by outsiders, we should not quickly become defensive; however, we should not simply be looking for a way to be palatable to them as well. Rather, we can see this as a call to reconsider the words of the Master. What does the Lord teach us, and are we truly being faithful to those words?
Jesus is reminding us that we cannot hope to bring people to sophisticated theological truths if we haven’t simply loved them first. Telling someone how wrong we think they are is a sure way to alienate them and push them away. That was never Jesus’ way – even when He was dealing with clear sinners! He started from the very basic and radical idea that we all belong to God and that we are all loved by Him. Start with that belonging and I guarantee that we can grow and even become closer to Christ ourselves!
Our assumption should be that people belong here – not wondering where the heck they’ve been or what they’re doing wrong or incorrectly or where they came from or how worthy they are of the Eucharist or any other judgment that we can think of. No. We have lost so many people because of a heightened sense of judgment, when we should have been concerned with loving them and celebrating the fact that they, like us, belong here!
Now, if we want to “meet people where they are” then we have to go where they are – not wait for them to come to us or to measure up to some standard of “worthiness.” This is the challenge of modern discipleship. We cannot watch our brothers and sisters, children, and friends leave the Church and assume (hypocritically) that they’ll be back when they come to their senses. They’re not coming back, friends! And one of the reasons that they’re not returning is that we haven’t cared enough to go after them and tell them that we miss them – that we could have been wrong – that we love them.
We have a lot of work to do here. It might be scary. It certainly will take humility. However, Jesus is calling us to be merciful, just as your heavenly Father is merciful. And to do that, God showed the ultimate act of humility and came after us. May we who are nourished by this Eucharist have that same humility, that same mercy, and look on our brothers and sisters as beloved members who belong here. Who knows, we might just learn something too – since that measure with which we measure will be measured out to us!