Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Mr. Mephistopheles, I Presume?

"Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?"

He will answer them, "Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me."

This past Sunday's Gospel is probably among the most familiar Scriptures to the average believer. It contains a lesson central to the Gospel: that we meet Christ in our neighbor. And generally speaking, whether we act like it or not, I think we take this fact pretty much as a given. Sure, we forget about it in the hustle and bustle of daily life, and we do well to remind ourselves of the reality; but my point is that it is at least something to which we give occasional consideration.

But this Gospel gives us pause to consider another encounter that we even more often fail to perceive: the meeting of the Devil. He, too, underlies our daily humdrum and rigamarole and brings a cosmic dimension to our lived realities. We have an opportunity to encounter him, as well, in our meetings with others and the ways in which we respond to opportunities of sin or virtue. But I think we tend to miss his subtle wiles; and more than simply failing to encounter Christ in our neighbor when we shun the poor, the imprisoned, and the lonely, we may choose in place of that encounter to engage a sinister force, albeit masked. How often do we not simply fail to perform an act of charity, without choosing something in its stead - some easier or more comfortable activity, or something downright sinful?

A recent conversation brought this reality home to me. "What's the harm," a friend asked, "if I go to a party where sinful activity may be happening, as long as I don't directly engage in that activity?" Can tacit complaisance really be sinful? Can a Christian justly walk in the door, paying no attention to the shocking deficit of clothing per capita, the fishbowl full of condoms on the table, the plumes of mysterious smoke filtering in from the porch, the keg-stands being done in the kitchen, the indiscrete gropings on the dance floor, and go about enjoying himself with a smile and a dismissive laugh? "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do... and I sure as hell am not going to tell them."

When I was growing up, teachers over-simplified this issue. Or, maybe, then, it wasn't as complex. But this isn't simply a matter of checking Christ at the door. The party-goer in question could easily walk in wearing his "Passion of the Christ" T-Shirt, a big crucifix hanging from his neck, a latin motto displayed proudly on his cellular phone screen. The spirit of relativism has so gripped our society that hardly anyone at the party would be displeased by such a one's presence. And they might even let the Jesus-freak say a few words about the Gospel before amiably bowing out of the conversation in order to go fornicate in the corner, knowledgable of the fact that the "Christian witness" will simply shrug his shoulders and whistle his way across the room to another person with whom he can chat, all the while justifying his actions as preaching the Gospel; and, after all, "Jesus sat at table with sinners."

No. Rather, before all, Jesus sat at table with sinners. He rose from the table with Saints. Saints who had been nourished by His Word, by His Body and Blood, and would follow Him thenceforth.

Welcome to the party, friend, says Mr. Mephistopheles. We've met before. Oh, you don't remember? A shame. Well, no matter, we'll get reaquainted tonight.

And we let ourselved be duped. We miss this encounter and carelessly bear our Christian identity in such a way as to cast pearls before swine. The Crucified Christ is calling us to leave the table with Him, to witness to Him by our absence from such a place, perhaps by spending the time instead in adoration before Him. But we drag Him along by means of our iconographic t-shirt and kid ourselves that all is just as well.

In the spirit of this week's Gospel, I think we would all benefit by asking ourselves not simply when we have failed to visit with and minster to Jesus; but to whom have we chosen to make ourselves present instead? We recieve lots of invitations; there are plenty of parties to go to. Whose invitation will we accept today?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Joe; very thought-provoking words. I'm reminded,"...or else that devil will find seven more devils and return to find the home cleaned and swept..." And, "...a smoldering wick he will not squelch..." Our best defense is our offense. Thanks. -- Ged.

11/23/05, 4:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find myself in this predicament constantly. I run from sin like the plague, no doubt, but I shudder to think of leaving others behind. In my experience, which is still ongoing, I have found it to be a matter of prudence. I do not go looking for sinfests, nor do I encourage others to go; however, upon invitation I spend time in discernment. Because I know such times to be powerful occasions for evangelization, I don't immediately negate the invite. Your example of the person who preaches the Gospel momentarily and then skates off to his own enjoyment is common because he serves himself. But if I attend the same party with the whole armor of God, having girded my loins with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, taking the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, am I wrong? In otherwords, if I continually abide in the vine, centering my heart and spirit on Christ and stand as an example for others, am I not the beacon of light in the house of darkness? Do I not bring truth and salvation to others not strong enough to find Him themselves? The lost sheep don't find their own way home, the shephard comes to retrieve them. But again, it all comes back to prudence. I don't advocate hopping into all celebrations of sinful behavior, but if Christ never came to the dwelling place of sinners, who would be saved?

11/26/05, 4:18 PM  

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