Saturday, March 31, 2012

Overturning Tables and Loving the Adulterous

Earlier this week I had a moment where I snapped at one of my classes. I was sick and tired of their apathy and attitude of entitlement. This particular class seems to want everything spoon fed to them and they have very little work ethic. I get the impression from them most days that they refuse to use their brains, hate hard work, and are very indifferent to the faith. On this particular day they were refusing to take an activity we were doing seriously so I let them have it. I can honestly say that my motivation behind going off on them was initially good and out of love but I may have been a little harsh on them. Despite their lazy attitudes I really love these kids. I want them to love Jesus so much but I look out at them every day and my heart aches a little bit because they are all living in a false reality. They do not realize they are products of their culture. They do not recognize truth even though they have been exposed to it every day. As their religion teacher I have been entrusted with the responsibility to do what seems like the impossible: LOVINGLY give them the TRUTH without making them hate the faith in an atmosphere where they are forced to listen to me whether they like it or not. How can I be effective at this?

What is the proper balance between truth and love? As a Catholic man this is a question I have always struggled with. For some reason there are two stories in the Gospels that have always stood out to me a very profound way. One of those is the story of the woman Caught in Adultery:

But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area, and all the people started coming to him, and he sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle. They said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger. But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he bent down and wrote on the ground. And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him. Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, [and] from now on do not sin anymore.” (John 8:2-11)

The other one is the cleansing of the Temple:

Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money-changers seated there He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” (John 2: 13-16)

I think both of these passages exemplify Jesus’ ability to communicate the truth with love. One passage shows a very compassionate and merciful Jesus. The other passage shows Jesus telling it like it is and ticking some people off. Some would argue that the first is loving while the second is not. I would argue that both of these actions reveal God’s love very powerfully. In the first, we often only focus on the woman caught in adultery and how forgiving and loving Jesus was with her but the truth of it is that while he embraced her, this pissed the Pharisees off. He called them out and made them look bad in front of everyone. In the second, it would seem like this is a very angry Jesus. The modern world would not look at this action as loving because it isn’t very “nice” to tell people they are wrong about something. Well, in Jesus calling them out and overturning the tables He was being loving because He was concerned for their souls. He saw that by desecrating the temple and treating it like a marketplace they were harming themselves and the community. He displayed a sort of righteous and justifiable anger that was fueled by love.

My struggle is how do we find that same balance? I often wonder if I am communicating the truth with love. The fact of the matter is that I can’t simply judge this based on whether or not me saying something pisses someone off. Sometimes the truth hurts. The truth has a way of challenging us and making us uncomfortable. This causes us to react negatively when we hear it. This does not mean it was not communicated to us in love. Sometimes we need to hear the truth in the way the woman caught in adultery heard it and sometimes we need to hear the truth in the way the Pharisees heard it. When love is not rooted in the truth it simply is not real love. I believe Pope Benedict XVI articulates this very well in his encyclical, Caritas in Veritatae when he writes:

“Through this close link with truth, charity can be recognized as an authentic expression of humanity and as an element of fundamental importance in human relations, including those of a public nature. Only in truth does charity shine forth, only in truth can charity be authentically lived. Truth is the light that gives meaning and value to charity. That light is both the light of reason and the light of faith, through which the intellect attains to the natural and supernatural truth of charity: it grasps its meaning as gift, acceptance, and communion. Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way” (3).

How do we find this balance between truth and love in a culture where love truly has “become an empty shell to be filled in an arbitrary way”? People seem to just want to create their own realities and when anyone tries to show them the illusion they are living in they accuse that person of being intolerant and unloving. How do I as a Christian speak the truth in a way that wins people over when people don’t really want to be won over? How do I “overturn the tables” so to speak in the lives of my students, friends, and family members that need to be overturned without pushing them further away from the faith? How can I give them a “woman caught in adultery” experience while at the same time overturning their tables?

The fact is that part of loving people involves speaking the truth. As Christians we cannot keep silent or simply accept an individual or a government’s sinful behavior. We have to be willing to speak the truth even when others get hurt or offended or perceive that as “unloving”. But at the same time we have to do it in a way that is not tainted with our own selfish motives and desires. This is a tough balance to strike. Personally, I know that I am guilty of both sharing the truth without love and “loving” without the truth. There have been times when I have not proclaimed the truth fully for fear of being rejected by someone. There have also been times when I have preached the truth in a way that is unloving. It is a tough balance to strike. However sadly I think most of the time people forsake the truth for the sake of being “loving”. That in itself is devoid of love. We cannot be afraid of offending people.

Finding the balance between truth and love is an art form. It is something that is a work in progress for me. If anyone has any suggestions or experiences on how to find this balance please feel free to share :)!

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