January 9, 2016
by John Shea, S.J.
Creighton University's Biology Department
click here for photo and information about the writer

Saturday after Epiphany
Lectionary: 217

1 John 5:14-21
Psalms 149:1-2, 3-4, 5-6a and 9b
John 3:22-30

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For those dioceses celebrating Epiphany on January 6th

Each semester I teach biology to eager young undergraduate students. And each semester, I see them making the same mistakes: texting in class, skipping classes, studying in front of the television or simply not studying at all. I feel conflicted in how I should respond. On one hand, I want to correct them, shake them out of their complacency and place them on the path to success. On the other hand, they are adults and often need to learn from their mistakes. What should I do?

The question becomes more complicated when I see a colleague, friend or family member falling into sin. How will I respond in a way that respects their God-given freedom? Will my response come from a place of charity? Or will I respond from self-righteousness? Will it be an opportunity for healing? Or will it be chance to prove my moral superiority? Will I lift up my fallen brother or sister? Or will I secretly relish in seeing them struggle? Am I motivated by care, compassion and love? Or do I feel pride, jealousy or fear?

Our reading from John gives advice to those who see their brother or sister sinning: we pray. We ask God to give our fallen brethren life. We ask this knowing that God, not us, ultimately triumphs over sin and death. We ask this confident that God will answer our prayers. Through Jesus we know we all belong to God. The Incarnation reveals a God who entered into our world out of love. God knows our needs before we do. Thus, we know that if we ask anything according to God’s will, God will hear us.

When we see our brothers and sisters falling into sin, we must first turn to God in prayer. Our reliance upon God in prayer reminds us who is ultimately in charge of defeating evil. In other words, prayer helps keep our ego in check. We remember that correcting all of the world’s evils is ultimately not up to us. Prayer helps ensure that our response to our fallen brethren will come from sincere love for the other. Prayer helps us avoid flaunting the other’s sin and denigrating the sinner so as to build up ourselves. Instead, we approach our fallen brethren with humility and charity.

Sin, death and evil will remain with us until God’s Kingdom is established. No community is free from conflict and pain. Even the early disciples had their disagreements. You can almost hear the jealousy in the voices of John’s disciples when they complain about how Jesus “is baptizing and everyone is coming to him.” John responds by pointing to Jesus and reminding them of what’s really important. Drop your egos, see the Truth and love one another: “He must increase, I must decrease.”

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