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?