When I get up in the morning I enjoy a cup of strong coffee (some called it “liquid tar”), watch BBC News on TV, and then drive to Creighton listening to NPR. I like a structured life and following a daily routine. Perhaps most of us do. In general, such habits are positive. They relieve us from thinking about each and every little step we take during the day. We simply follow the routine without having to spend a lot of time and energy thinking what we should do next!
However, a problem can arise when we are so set in our ways that small changes irritate us. For example, when we get annoyed when family or friends are visiting us, “interrupting” our habits. Some time ago, I had to change the frame of my glasses that I was using for about 15 years. The frame had become rusty. Being used to the particular shape and size of the frame, I asked the optician for something similar. He smiled and told me that such frames are not produced anymore. I had to change what I was used to and to get something different. I was not happy about that. Today I laugh about my lack of flexibility in this minor issue.
Most of us like some “routine” in our way of thinking; familiar ideas give us comfort and security. Even though a thought-routine is good, it can incarcerate our mind. We can become unable to think outside the box and even might experience those who think differently as wrong and irritating. Perhaps we even experience such people as threatening our values and way of life!
This came to my mind when I read today’s gospel. The people listening to Jesus were touched by his words. Some said that "Never before has anyone spoken like this man." However, the religious leadership felt threatened by Christ who, as they are told, “is truly the Prophet." Christ disturbed their religious routine with his preaching, challenged their faith with his radical message, and perhaps threatened their authority through his closeness to his Father. The irony is that our church, who continues the mission of Christ, feels sometimes threatened by voices from inside and outside the church that express new and alternative ways of interpreting the faith and human life. At times, our church even intimidates those voices as the Pharisees did with Nicodemus in today’s gospel.
Similar dynamics are common in our society. Those who think differently and have different values are often sidelined, ridiculed, and ostracized. Perhaps we have experienced something similar within our families and among our friends and colleagues. Perhaps we have laughed about others who had views that are different from ours and avoided those who lived lives based on values and norms that are not familiar to us.
Today’s gospel taught me three lessons. First, that God was on the side of his son when he was sidelined by the Pharisees and that God will be on the side of those who are disliked and excluded by mainstream society today. They can recite the prayer in the psalm of today’s mass: “My God, in you I take refuge.” The second lesson that I learned from today’s gospel is that those who are excluded by others are encouraged to imitate Christ who did not resort to the strategies of his opponents. Instead, as the psalm says, he was “like a trusting lamb led to slaughter.” Similarly, those who are excluded today are encouraged to do the same. The knowledge that God is on their side will give them the motivation to imitate Christ’s commitment to non-violence and non-aggression. The third lesson that I learned from this reading is that I should be open to alternative and new ways of living our faith and not be stuck in my old habits!
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