Sunday, July 12, 2015

Who's really watching?

2 Samuel 11:26-12-10
James 1:1-12
Mark 6:14-29

“St. Mark says Herod exceedingly honored John the Baptizer, even when he was being reproved … yet so captive was Herod to his passion that he would surrender half his kingdom and the honor he held for John for only a moment of illicit pleasure.”  St. Chrysostom

I think by now we are just about up to our chins in “doomsday” opinions and predictions regarding a certain US Supreme Court decision.  Though we have our share of legitimate concerns about the potential fallout and wonder exactly how this ruling will affect the Church in general, one Catholic writer suggests we are not looking closely enough if all we see is doom.

In a recent essay in Crisis magazine, Jason Morgan observed that the jubilant attitude of those who applaud the decision of the Court can hardly claim a moral victory given their immoral demands and immoral actions and comments such as one by a former TV actor who referred to associate Justice Clarence Thomas as a “clown in black face” because of what Thomas had written in his dissent of the majority opinion!

The actor got what he wanted (a favorable ruling), but he somehow found it necessary to take a cheap shot at someone who disagreed with the ruling.  For the record, Justice Thomas was only one of the four who opposed the ruling.  The actor did later apologize, but his passion in his spiteful comments may be indicative of what we face. 

It is not enough to gain a perceived victory.  The mindset may be geared more toward obliteration of all who stand opposed.  And such conflict may well be inevitable, for the Church cannot – must not – give in to morally questionable demands.  The Church must not further attempt to assimilate itself to the secular culture that lives by the demands of the flesh and ignores the call of the Spirit.

Given the potential conflicts we may face, how can devout Christians see this ruling as good in any way?  Well, we may consider the Crucifixion and Resurrection of our Lord.  Surely there were many then who cheered Jesus’ torture and death only to discover later that their perceived victory was no victory at all.  Evil may seem to have its day as we often see in the news but even if evil can claim a temporary political victory, it will never be able to claim a long-lasting moral victory – not if power is their only means to an end.  Not in this life nor in the Life to come. 

Yet even these claimed “victories” that violate everything we know to be good and righteous are not the great challenges we face as Disciples of Christ.  Our world is not crumbling, for this is not our world!  These immoral social demands only get a piece of our lives when we allow it to happen because we are indeed “free” men and women - in Christ - regardless of which flag we may claim as our own.  We also know – and can take comfort in if we will – the reality of our Lord’s return when we are invited by our Lord and encouraged and even admonished to “keep watch, for [we] do not know the day or hour” of The Lord’s return.

But we are also called to “keep watch” for much more than the return of Messiah, even though this should be the prayer we share with St. John of the Revelation: “Come soon, Lord Jesus”.  We are commanded – warned! - to “keep watch” for that which can so easily trip us up, can so easily entangle us in hatefulness, vindictiveness, spitefulness, and lust for the power to control our environment and a world that is not ours. 

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record Jesus in the hours leading up to His arrest - warning His disciples to “keep watch lest you fall into temptation”.  This warning is a key component of The Lord’s Prayer; that we pray fervently not to be led “into temptation” or abandoned in “the time of trial”. 

You see, keeping watch for temptation is not about what other people are doing.  It is about how easily we can be drawn in.

Though King Herod is certainly not an example of discipleship, we may be able to see that the temptation Herod faced in Mark’s Gospel is not unlike the temptation King David faced, or the many temptations we face almost daily.  As St. Chrysostom observed, Herod held John in very high regard – with respect and even fear; the same respect and fear David had for The Lord.  Yet the Word of God had no real or lasting impact on either, so enslaved were they to their passions and perhaps their power. 

Herod allowed his passion and a false sense of duty and honor to convince him that executing St. John was his only option - socially, even politically speaking - according to a vow he had made in the heat of his passion.  In his sinful passion he probably wanted the dancing girl as David wanted Bathsheba, but political power – fueled by carnal passion - led them both to the much graver sin.

Sin, as has been observed, is the saltwater which enhances our thirst but will never quench it – but because we are so spiritually thirsty, we will continue to drink.  The meaning is clear.  Though we may consider “lesser” sin that does not do real harm and for which we can grant ourselves some justification, we cannot ignore the very real spiritual threat which exists when we allow even a little sin to go unresolved or unatoned for in our lives.  And it is for this reason: sin, in whatever form and however seemingly insignificant, always opens the door for much greater sin.  It is often so subtle, we hardly notice – especially when we allow ourselves to become acclimated to it and comfortable in it.

In Herod’s case we should note his twisted sense of social and political honor.  I suspect Herod carried some measure of guilt in his morally “unlawful” marriage to his brother’s wife; and David was so caught up in his own passion that he did not recognize himself until he was confronted! 

Though there may have been no real cultural objection to Herod’s marriage (particularly in the Roman culture), there is always a point at which we must discern between the cultural and moral expectations – and Who is really watching us, Who really regulates our lives, to Whom we are fully accountable.  If our sense of morality is based strictly on subjective cultural expectations, then we reason no harm or foul since cultural standards of morality shift from one generation to the next. 

As we have clearly seen since the so-called Sexual Revolution of the 60’s, once that door was cracked open there was no longer any protection from a full frontal and overwhelming invasion.  A little sin has become such grave sin that the line dividing right from wrong has been not only blurred but removed altogether. 

Nothing shocks us anymore though many claim to be so easily “offended”, but here’s the stink of social or cultural offensiveness for the faithful: we don’t seem to be so concerned about what is offensive to The Lord and His Law as we are to what is offensive to us personally.  This may be because even Christians disagree about or don’t understand the importance of the Divine Law in daily living even though we will not hesitate to quote The Law here and there to “prove” our point of being “right”; but are we defending righteousness and the Divine Law for The Lord’s sake and glory - or are we only defending our personal sensitivities?

It is the measure of Herod’s challenge – and ultimate downfall – that was not so concerned with what is eternally and objectively “wrong” (murder, adultery).  It was Herod’s standing among his contemporaries he was most concerned with – which we must be concerned with.  In his passion he made a pact with the dancing girl, and in defending his pride it became necessary to make a pact with the devil.

So we look to the story of King Herod much in the way we should view this Supreme Court decision; not with disdain, not with anxiety, and certainly not with contempt – but maybe with compassion and pity for all who are so easily enticed.  But we also need not look at the verdict as something that does not have the potential to do more harm in the interim between now and the Day of The Lord when Christ returns “to judge the living and the dead”.  Our concern should not be that we or our children may be somehow “converted” – but that we become aware of how easily we can be sucked in to the useless arguments and forgetting not only Whom we serve but Who has promised to fight for us if and when the time comes rather than to take the fight upon ourselves. 

“We live as human beings, but we do not wage war according to human standards; for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have Divine Power [in our faithfulness] to destroy [human] strongholds.  We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.  We are ready to punish every disobedience [only] when your obedience is complete” (2 Corinthians 10:3-6 NRSV).  Notice whose obedience must first be dealt with before we worry about the disobedience of others?

It doesn’t matter what we face in the coming days.  It matters Whom we choose to face the world with – because it always matters Who is really watching over us … faithfully and eternally.  Amen.

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