Sunday, March 27, 2011

Why should we be fussier than Jesus?

On Saturday, March 26, 2011, the gospel reading began with these two verses, “The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to him, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’” (Luke 15:1-2)  

In response, Jesus tells the scribes and Pharisees the parable of the prodigal son in which one son demands his inheritance before his father dies and then squanders it.  Eventually, the son undergoes reformation and returns to his father, penitent and ready to resume the relationship.  The son who remained with the father becomes very jealous and angry at his brother’s return.   He expresses frustration towards his father for welcoming the wayward son and refuses to join the celebratory feast.

Homilies and reflections about this passage often focus on the sins of the prodigal son, about reform, about asking for forgiveness and about granting it.  Rarely do they focus on the other son, the one consumed with jealously fueled by delusions of his perfection.   The second son believed he was without sin but he committed very grievous sins of being hard-hearted, mean-spirited, arrogant, dismissive, condescending and unforgiving.  He was like the scribes and Pharisees who criticized Jesus for fraternizing with society’s undesirables, labeling them as “sinners”, while failing to realize Jesus also welcomed sinners when he dined with them, the scribes and Pharisees.    

Between the two brothers’ actions and attitudes, they actually commit all seven of the deadly sins: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, envy, lust and gluttony.   At a minimum, the first brother commits sloth, lust and gluttony.  At a minimum, the second brother commits wrath, pride and envy.  Both seem motivated at some point by greed.   Actually, they might have other sins in common such as lust but the prodigal son committed this sin in a very public way while the second son might have committed the same sin in secrecy.  Regardless, the second son seems to have ranked his brother’s sins as more severe than his own or overlooked his own sins completely.   

The same was true with the scribes and Pharisees addressing Jesus.  They criticized Jesus for associating with “sinners”, meaning “other” people who committed sins they thought were “the worst”.   Yet, the scribes and Pharisees failed to see their own sins.  They believed they were worthy of Jesus’ company but others were not.

Two thousand years later we still have people labeling other people’s sins as “the worst” while failing to see or downplaying their own sins.  Many church leaders and lay supporters feel “the worst” sins are disagreeing with the pope or other clergy members, questioning infallibility doctrine, having an abortion, voting for the “wrong” politician, using artificial birth control, desiring human rights for homosexuals, or expecting equality for women.   At the same time these church leaders and laypeople often overlook or downplay their sins of wrath, pride, greed, sloth, lust, envy or gluttony. 

Conversely, many lay people feel “the worst” sins are priests raping children, church leaders ignoring pedophilia claims and enabling pedophile priests, accumulating property while not caring for the poor, lacking compassion, and supporting misogyny, chauvinism, homophobia or clericalism.

What is happening to the church that factions weigh their pedigree as superior to others?  Why is there so much fuss over the sins of others rather than one’s own sins?  Why do some people passionately follow the example of the second son, scribes or Pharisees, trying to exclude others from the feast?  After 2,000 years, have we learned nothing from Jesus’ teaching?  Whether scribes, Pharisees, popes, cardinals, bishops, priests, deacons, traditional, orthodox, conservatives, liberals or progressives, when receiving the Eucharist, Jesus dines with sinners.   Why should we be fussier than Jesus?

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