By Paul Koch –
Every now and again as I move through the ebb and flow of life, I am provided with vivid reminders of the depravity of mankind—not just that we are sinners or broken beings, but that we have a drive within us that longs for the wicked, what St. Augustine called “concupiscence.” And while there are many examples of mankind’s compassion, love, and kindness (especially in the wake of disasters like Hurricane Harvey), I find that I’m growing more comfortable with the idea of man’s willingness to tear one another down rather than build each other up.
However, deep down, I remain an optimist and even a bit of a romantic. When people stop in my study to talk, I’m still eager to hear about their vacation plans, the surprise they prepared for their spouse, or their idea for helping out the youth of the congregation. And time and again, I’m brought back down to reality when I hear stories of infidelity, petty grudges, or blame over doors unlocked and lights left on. Slowly but surely, I am learning to be a skeptic and assume that when we can hurt each other, we most likely will.
When Jesus tells his disciples that he must go up to Jerusalem, suffer many things, and be killed, Peter pulls him aside and rebukes him: “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” He demands that God work in the world in the way that we would. If we had the power and authority, if we possessed the wonders of God, there would be no suffering, no sacrifice, no silence before the shearers, and no willingness to bear a cross. No, it would look very different. Punishment and retributive justice would be the order of our reign. We will make sure the disobedient get what’s coming to them.
The other night, I took my lovely bride to see the first place Los Angeles Dodgers. We had good seats, and it was a good game. Everyone was dressed head to toe in Dodger blue, and as the sun set over the stadium, the cheers continued to grow. It was a good time, fun and entertaining, everything a baseball game should be. But out of nowhere, one fan committed the unforgivable sin. Right there in row A on the Lodge level, a lady began to puff on a cigarette. Now, to be honest, I think it was an e-cig, but the effect was the same. The shock and disbelief from the fans around us was palpable. As the smoke (or vapor) drifted over the section, the outrage bubbled up. People began to talk at first in hushed tones and then louder and bolder: “Who is smoking?” “You can’t smoke in here!” “Where’s security?” “Why don’t they do something?” “She ought to be thrown out!”
It wasn’t too long until a security personnel arrived and politely told the offending sinner not to smoke. She immediately stopped. I found the whole kerfuffle amusing, to say the least. No one themselves asked the lady if she would stop, though it would have been a simple and even polite gesture to make, and after the official asked her to stop, they were unwilling to let it go. The lady behind me kept saying (in a loud voice) that she ought to be thrown out. And fans around her were agreeing with her. Where was the repentance? Where was the shame?
There was a missed opportunity to punish this lady, a missed opportunity to hurt her, and the fans were upset.
We make the sign of the cross only when it benefits us, only when it is our escape and rescue. And then in our newfound joy and freedom, we tear down and hurt our neighbor, no cross for them, no cross for their sins.
Praise be to God that he never listens to the way we would do it and that he never bends to our ideals. Over and again, he delivers his body and blood to the unworthy and lowly, gives a cross, and simply says, “Follow.”