Monday, 30 March 2009

What would Jesus do?

Fr Z has put up a mock interview between Bishop Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island and President Obama, written by the bishop, and basically setting out how he would take him to task for his pro-abortion views.

Apparently, the bishop copped a bit of flak for this, and as a result wrote a great follow-up piece, which I think has some enduring relevance for us all! So here are a few key extracts from it.

Jesus wasn't always nice!

"...The other premise of my critics seems to be that because we are Christians we should never be angry or challenge others. We should always be charitable, tolerant, kind and nice, they suggest. After all, isn’t that what Jesus would do?

Well, in fact, no. The Gospels are very clear that in confronting moral evil Jesus wasn’t at all nice or kind. We usually think of Jesus as a prophet of peace, and indeed He was. But His preaching also created bitter controversy and division. “I have come to set the earth on fire . . . Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” (Lk 12: 49, 51)

Think of Jesus cleansing the Temple, an incident recorded in all four Gospels. Jesus entered the Temple angrily, confronted the merchants and money-changers, made a whip out of cords, drove them away and upset their tables and booths. Doesn’t sound too charitable to me!

Jesus railed against the towns of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum for their lack of faith, and predicted a terrible judgment day for those towns. “You will go down the netherworld,” He warned. (Mt 11: 23) Doesn’t sound too charitable to me!

And of course there’s Jesus’ withering condemnation of the Scribes and Pharisees. He repeatedly called them hypocrites. He described them as “blind guides . . . whitewashed tombs . . . serpents . . . brood of vipers . . . and murderers.” (Cf. Mt, Chapter 23) Doesn’t sound too charitable to me!

There are other examples, but you get the point. In confronting moral evil, Jesus wasn’t nice, kind, gentle and sweet. He lived in a rough and tumble world and He took His message to the streets. He was a fearless prophet who spoke the truth sometimes with harsh and angry language. Jesus’ condemnations infuriated public officials and religious leaders, so much so that they were determined to kill Him. And indeed they did.

True charity lies in truth

In using condemnatory language was Jesus being “uncharitable?” Of course not. It was precisely because He loved people, because He was concerned for their salvation, that He spoke the truth, that He condemned their immoral, sinful behavior.

And that should be the mission of the Church today. Sometimes as Catholics we’re hesitant to challenge the immoral behavior of others, including public officials, because we don’t want to appear judgmental or uncharitable. Our society urges us to be “tolerant” of other people and their behavior, even if it’s objectively wrong. But it’s precisely because we love others that we should never tolerate immoral behavior. As Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver has written so well, “Tolerance is not an end in itself, and tolerating or excusing grave evil in a society is itself a grave evil . . . And it is not a Christian virtue.” (Render Unto Caesar, p. 145-146)

...As a religious leader, though, charged with carrying on the prophetic mission of Christ, I have the right, and in fact the duty, to challenge his immoral actions. I do so because Christian charity requires me to do so, because I love my country and I believe in the sanctity of human life. As St. Paul said, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.” (I Cor 9:16)"

Implications for us

Now none of this is to say that we should spend all our time going around pointing out sin and scandal and calling people to repentance. Firstly, it is always good advice for us to look for the mote in our own eye first! Secondly, we are not all bishops, entrusted with the teaching office of the Church, or called to take on each and every cause that we stumble across. Nonetheless, as catholics we do have a duty to engage on issues that concern us all, and I think the key message here is that we shouldn't be deterred from doing so by the 'culture of niceness' that is trying to smother truth in our society.

And isn't it wonderful to see a courageous bishop speak out!

No comments: