By Bishop Paul
As you may know, I have a strong interest in helping our families living in a secular, humanistic culture, which seems to show no interest in the Orthodox Faith. How do we go about addressing this? How do we learn to live in the world realizing that we are not of it? This is the tension that must exist if we are to be on the right track.
I would first like to share some words about acceptance and unconditional love. These are popular words in most people’s vocabulary. Christopher Walken plays a villain the 1989 Batman movie with Jack Nicolson. He tells a Christmas gathering in Gotham City that if he could give the world a gift, “it would be unconditional love wrapped in a big bow.” Those who have seen the movie can pick up on a tone of sarcasm/manipulation in this comment. If we don’t have a good understanding of acceptance and unconditional love, we won’t make any headway in living in the world we encounter today.
We often say Jesus loves us unconditionally and accepts us where we are. What does this mean?
In Matthew 2:13-17, we read: “He went out again beside the sea; and all the crowd gathered about Him, and He taught them. And as he passed on, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office, and He said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed Him. And as he sat at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were sitting with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many who followed Him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that He was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to His disciples, ‘Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ And when Jesus heard it, He said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.'”
Jesus called Levi (Matthew) to follow Him, knowing that he was a tax collector. Many tax collectors at that time were corrupt and abused their office. They were “big time” sinners. But Jesus proceeds to eat with even more of them at Levi’s house, prompting criticism from the scribes of the Pharisees. The fact that they were sinners did not get in the way of Jesus reaching out to them. Their sin was not an obstacle to Christ, Who set no conditions on Levi in saying to him, “Follow Me.” He made it a point to seek out people who lived lives many would not approve of. So instead of shying away from such people we, by God’s grace, need to extend this same attitude to those very same people. The only way to do this is to always be mindful, first of all, of our own sin. Who are these people? It could be a person who had an abortion, a gay person or a gay married couple, a man and woman living together outside marriage; it could be your gun-toting NRA member, a “conservative” who loves Fox News and Sean Hannity, or a “liberal” who is a CNN or PBS lover. It could be a transgender person, someone with multiple tattoos, the wealthy corporate white capitalist who is greedy, or a corrupt policeman or politician. These “sinners” are no different than the ones with whom Jesus ate. And we are called to accept them as Jesus accepted them. I will continue with the theme of acceptance in postings to follow. Please don’t take the above to mean it doesn’t matter what you do. I will further explain this in next week’s post.
The Lord’s blessing be upon you!
I welcome comments; I don’t claim to be infallible here. Possible themes to comment on:
What is the hardest thing to do when it comes to accepting someone? Is there anything in my thoughts you disagreed with?
Are there any groups or people you have a hard time accepting and loving unconditionally?
This post invites introspection. It seems that if spouse 1 is a “’conservative’ who loves Fox News and Sean Hannity,” and spouse 2 continues to express love for spouse 1 and tries unsuccessfully at times to withhold comment, that this provides something for spouse 2 to confess and to include in prayer. What would Jesus recommend to someone who loves another unconditionally for dealing with feelings of concern about the other?
Mark, I can relate to what you are saying. My spouse and I are by no means on opposite ends, but we definitely have different opinions on some of the events unfolding daily in today’s highly polarized climate. And at times we are both intolerant of each other’s views. He is not Orthodox and works in the financial sector, and much of his views are from a business perspective. I tend to default to a faith-based view in being financially prudent, but unwilling to compromise Christ’s teachings in that process. I’ll admit I get irritated when I see others in the faith excuse immoral failings and deception because there is some perceived gain in overlooking the ugly things. I’ve heard people cite King David as being an adulterer yet God still chose him to lead the Israelites…without mention that David actually repented for his failures. I am at least grateful my spouse and I see more eye-to-eye in that regard. With that said, I have learned that we have to agree to disagree, but still listen to each other’s perspective without being defensive or trying to change them. I believe this is important for BOTH spouses to do this. In that process of being a non-defensive and passive listener, I think both parties can open up to what the other is saying, and at least have a better understanding and tolerance in agreeing to disagree. I have actually learned a lot about things I wasn’t aware of that at least help me understand why others may see things differently. In the end, Levi was called and had the choice of walking with Christ, or continuing his life as a corrupt tax collector. We can lead a horse to water, but we can’t make them drink. But we can continue to love them, and pray that they may see things according to God’s will, not our will or their will. My two cents anyway…
Can you tell me something about yourself? I am not quite sure what you are looking for here. My point in this part of the reflection is that we are divided by ideology and how we label someone affects the way we treat them. Wouldn’t mind hearing a bit more detail of what you are dealing with before I can recommend anything. Christ is risen! God bless, +Paul of Chicago
Thank you Ms. Sennott! I appreciate your words. You remind me of God’s words: “Be still and know that I am God.” Continuing from my post, Spouse 2 needs to remember these words and to know that God’s will will be done.