The myth of Narcissus is legendary. Narcissus was a man who was exceptionally handsome and knew it. And his actions reflected his utter disdain for those who loved him. He walked through life proud of his appearance and dismissive of those who admired him. Nemesis watched Narcissus and how he treated those around him and lured Narcissus to a pool where Narcissus could see his reflection. Narcissus fell in love with his own image and couldn’t tear himself away from the reflection in the water. He eventually drowned loving himself.
Is the moral of the story that we shouldn’t show attention to our outward appearance? Perhaps, but the deeper revelation is the heart too small to love others more than himself. This is the deepest soul sickness that this story reveals. And it is an all too common illness in all of us. This illness will even hide in the one who seems to be too hard on himself. I have known folks so proud of their “humility” that they make a great show of just how humble they are! Well, that’s just self-love in a different costume. The proof isn’t in the personal display as much as it is truly revealed in how we treat those around us. Narcissus’ “sin” wasn’t that he was handsome. It was how he dismissed those who loved him. It was in how he treated those around him. He treated others as if they should love him and then he hated them for doing what he insisted they do in his pride. No wonder he drowned in his own self-love.
Look at our Gospel Lesson in Luke 15:1-10:
At that time, the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
The religious folks of the Lord’s day had grown so ingrown in their practice of the faith handed down to them that they simply dismissed the “great unwashed” around them. They were meticulous in their religious observances but had forgotten that this faithfulness to purposeful practice of the faith was suppose to be a light to all around them, drawing others to the faith as well. They had forgotten the purpose of the wisdom of their faith and it had turned them into “proud” practitioners of the Law. And this pride had hardened their hearts against those who didn’t know the faith and stumbled through life. Instead of creating hearts of mercy and love towards “outsiders” their serious attention to the details of the faith had turned them into folks gripped by “prelest” (spiritual pride). And this caused them to miss the power of the Lord’s kindness and presence with “sinners.”
The Lord, being God in the flesh, spent His time not with the folks who mistakenly thought they were OK. He chose to be with the folks who already sensed they were headed in the wrong direction. But those who “knew” the way of God weren’t loving these others, these outsiders, enough to show them the way. They ignored them, feared them, and yes, even hated them in their hearts. And this very dismissal of these wounded people proved these religious people were sicker than the folks they dismissed!
Today, does your serious practice of the Faith make you more loving towards outsiders or more fearful? Is your parish a place of welcome to the stranger or do the faces in the congregation reflect suspicion and disdain? These “symptoms” reveal a spiritual illness that will be fatal for your spiritual life and the life of your parish. The love of God makes a person more apt to be welcoming, loving, and sharing of our spiritual treasures with others. The counterfeit spirituality only feeds the false notion of our own “specialness” to ourselves. Perhaps it’s time to insist that we seek the lost sheep and search out the lost coin instead of simply being satisfied with our “little” group.