Jesus teaches us that we are in the world but not of the world (John 17:6-11). He told Pilate during his passion that His Kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36). This is important for us to understand as Orthodox Christians. On the other hand, at the wedding banquet gospel from Matthew, mention is made that both good and bad are invited to the banquet (Matthew 22:10). Jesus also associated with sinners and ate with them. But he never justified their actions. As Jesus told the Pharisees, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:15-17). Their sin did not prevent Jesus from reaching out to them in love; he just didn’t participate in their sin. Finally, after He healed a person of an illness, Jesus told that person to go back to his town and tell them what good things God had done (Luke 8:38-39). So our Lord makes it clear that, as much as Christians are not of the world, he sends us back into the world to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel in deed and in truth.
For most kids, their first encounter with this world (other than their immediate family) starts with the school they attend, or the children they come to know in their neighborhood. As they grow older, kids will be exposed to all kinds of influences both positive and negative. I speak vaguely here, as it is not always clear how to address these influences. It is a parent’s responsibility to help their children sort that out. How do children learn to live with these bad and good influences on their lives? Secondly, even some of the good influences can be a problem if they become ends in themselves. Playing on a soccer team is not a bad thing, but it can become so when it is pursued with such intensity that things of more importance get neglected. Given this context I set for today’s topic, I offer the following for consideration:
- A parent’s child, whatever the age, is a witness to the love of Christ. Whether a child plays a musical instrument, plays on a soccer, baseball, or football team, or is a good academic student, it is not what they play that matters but how they play. I think of the great running back Barry Sanders of the Detroit Lions. He was a humble man who did not go out of his way to call attention to himself when he played. He didn’t showboat and boastfully demonstrate what a good player he was after scoring a touchdown. He just handed the ball to the referee after scoring and went about his business. I think Mr. Sanders set a good example for our children on how to approach playing sports in school. There is nothing wrong with excelling and doing well at something, but be humble and don’t call undue attention to oneself. Kids should practice good sportsmanship and shake hands with the other team whether they win or lose. It is not the end of the world if you lose. More importantly, does a child have fun when they play?
- So what about the bad influences children encounter in their world? I will be honest with you. I think children have a better ability than us adults to approach people and accept them where they are. This is what I meant by my earlier vague comment about positive or negative influences. How do we as parents help our kids address this? I have had many conversations with older children who speak of having friends that are LBGTQ. Is this a bad thing? Or, is this a good example of how to be witness to the love of Christ? Illegal drugs are another issue that is a big concern for parents and how that might impact their children. It is easy to tell kids to stay away from this influence. But what happens when a student can’t because it is so prevalent? Don’t think suburban schools are void of this influence. Those schools have the same problems as inner city schools because of the wealth that is available for kids to purchase drugs.
- It seems to me that the best thing to do is to follow the example of Christ when he ate with sinners and harlots. He engaged them as a physician, not as a judge. He did not justify their sins but neither did their sins become barriers that prevented Him from to reaching out to them in love. However, Jesus never participated in their sins. I think this same applies for our kids living in the world. We love those around us whether good or bad. Yet when we live by the commandments of our Lord and the teachings of the Church, we demonstrate that we are not of this world.
- Finally, if some of the people a child encounters have become a negative influence, then that child may need to pull away from that situation; especially when he or she is being encouraged to participate in a way of living that is sinful and harmful. This should be done without anger or judgment, but with a spirit to intercede for the person a child may need to pull away from.
I encourage all parents and children to continue discussing these issues with their parish priest. These are difficult concerns to address. I hope I have given everyone some things for all to think about for future reflection and discussion in your parishes.
The blessing of the Lord be upon you,
The unworthy +Paul