A Healthy ParishFr. Barnabas Powell
You’ve met them. They are the ones who always seem to have a criticism of how things are going AND they don’t jump in to assist, they just want to complain. Truth be told, I’ve caught myself doing the same thing.
Isn’t it amazing how much insight into a problem you can have and feel completely comfortable standing on the sidelines offer all this free advice? I guess by all the nodding and smiling, you get where I’m going!
This really shows up all too often in parish life. So many seem to be OK with offering observations about problems but then seem to be reluctant to actually help. “I’d rather write a check than volunteer to give my time” seems to be the common refrain, but then they don’t write the check AND don’t volunteer. And those folks always seem to be the first to either complain or to criticise. It’s frustrating.
What do you think is the root cause of such a common ailment among us? Jesus had an insight into this very challenge and He named the root cause, but I warn you, you aren’t going to like this!
Look at our Gospel Lesson this morning in Matthew 23:13-22:
The Lord said to the Jews who had come to him, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you devour widows’ houses and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive the greater condemnation. But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If any one swears by the temple, it is nothing; but if any one swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If any one swears by the altar, it is nothing; but if any one swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it; and he who swears by the temple, swears by it and by him who dwells in it; and he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.”
So, the root illness behind this common ailment among us and in our own hearts is Hypocrisy. See, I told you you wouldn’t like it. No one wants to think themselves a hypocrite and yet…
Hypocrisy is the all too easy fruit of fear and a lack of love. Fear, in the sense that we are smart enough to see what should be done, but afraid of getting involved for fear of failing or being rejected or running the risk of being hurt by others. So our fear enslaves us to an isolation but doesn’t take from us the insight as to what should be done. This sets up a “no win” situation for our lives. We know what needs to be done but we are too afraid to risk getting involved and being part of the solution for fear of rejection or disappointment.
And hypocrisy flows from a lack of love in the sense that “perfect love casts out fear.” Read this verse: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18) Love sets me free to risk AND liberates all those around me from my own expectations of response and behavior. Love lets me act without regard of others reactions because Love makes it possible to risk my own life and rest in God’s unconditional love for me.
So, today, as we learn to live in a healthy parish community; in healthy relationships in all aspects of our lives, work, home, church; let’s fight the illness of hypocrisy with the medicine of “perfect love” so that hypocrisy won’t lock us away in that “hell” of seeing what should be done but always standing on the sidelines offering advice without risking getting involved. By abandoning fear and embracing the liberty of love, we become Orthodox on Purpose!
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