25th Sunday Year B
Sin and conflicts.
We experience human conflicts all the time, whether it is in our families, our work places and yes, even in our faith communities. Conflicts are destructive. They strain human relationships and divide the community. Conflicts cause hurt and dissent. They often result in estranged relationships. These estrangements can be very long lasting, sometimes even for a lifetime. And the reason for these prolonged estrangements, even among loved ones, is because conflicts can create deep wounds. If a wounded heart is not healed, the relationship remained estranged. While the passage of time can bring about some level of superficial cordiality, without true healing of the heart, the estranged parties are unable to move on, to truly love each other again. This is a great tragedy – especially if the estrangement happens between loved ones or among members of a faith community.
My brothers and sisters. What are the unhealed wounds in your heart? Lets be honest, we all have them. They cause us anguish and we rather not think or talk about them. This is because talking and thinking about them brings back painful memories and unhappiness. And the reason it brings back pain is that my heart remained wounded. It has not been healed. I have merely swept the pain under the carpet and conceal it.
What is the cause of these human conflicts that cause us so much pain? It is sin – not just of one party, but often of all parties involved. The Church called the worst of these sins the Seven Deadly Sins, and list them in the following order: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth. The world today does not like to talk about sin. They think sin makes people feel bad. Presumably, by not talking about them, it makes us feel better. This is not true – we are only deceiving ourselves. The truth is, we cannot overcome an evil if we are not prepared to even name it. This is escapism, and escapism in itself is a manifestation of one of the seven deadly sins – the sin of pride. And far from making us feel good, pride brings us more misery.
The First Reading is set in the city of Alexandria, where faithful Jews live among pagans and other Jews that have abandoned their faith. Like today, the unbelievers were spiteful of the believers. They said, “Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life; for if the righteous man is God’s child, he will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries.” (verse 17-18). The unbelievers were not interested in whether what the believers believe is the truth. All they wanted to do is to inflict sufferings upon the believers. The want to see the believers react in a way that contradicts the teachings of the faith, so as to discredit them and the faith they profess. This is an extremely spiteful and destructive form of pride. It is not surprising that the Church lists pride as the first among the deadly sins. It is the same in our world today, unbelievers inflict sufferings on believers through words and action. In some cases, unbelievers even threaten the livelihood of unbelievers through the unhealthy practice of the “cancel culture”.
But many of us believers are not much better. Some believers also engage in radical rivalries among ourselves and against the unbelievers. Many of us experience conflicts with people who supposedly have much in common with us – people of the same family, people of the same faith. Instead of cherishing our common belief and common heritage, we emphasise our differences and create rivalries among ourselves. In the Second Reading, St Paul warned us, “For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.” (verse 3:16) In the family, family members fight each other over money and influence. In the church, ministry members fight each other over prominence and recognition. In Gospel times, afraid of losing prominence and influence, the religious leaders nailed Jesus on the cross. Some of us would secretly or even openly rejoice when misfortune fall upon our adversaries. We justify our sinful acts and sinful thoughts as efforts to defend our faith, our rights or our dignity, but in truth, the sin of pride is our main driving force. We want to prove we are right at all cost. This is pride. It is not love. That is why St Paul said in the Second Reading, “Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts.” (verse 4:1-2)
Jesus knew the temptation of pride all too well. To avoid unnecessary rivalry and jealousy, in the Gospel this week, as He passed through His home region of Galilee, “He did not want anyone to know it” (verse 30). He explained his action by cautioning the Apostles on the danger of the sin of pride, saying “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him” (verse 31). But did the Apostle heed our Lord’s message? No they did not. For almost immediately, they started arguing among themselves, they “argued with one another who was the greatest” (verse 34). The sin of pride has taken hold of them.
It was the sin of pride that crucified Jesus. Within our families and communities, where the sin of pride spurns conflicts, we too are crucifying each other. As we crucify each other, we bring pain and sufferings upon the whole family and the whole community. As Church members, we are the Body of Christ. As we crucify each other, we are also crucifying Jesus, just as the chief priests and the religious leaders did at Calvary. When church members fight each other, we are distracted from our common work of promoting love and justice. So, instead of being Jesus’ hands and feet to reach out to the world, we immobilise Him by crucifying Him on the cross.
So, what do I do if I am engaged in conflicts? The first step is to examine my words, actions and motivations honestly and truthfully. Am I been being controlled by the sin of pride, and with it the other deadly sins of greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth? The second step is to contemplate Jesus on the cross. He died out of love for me. Let me invite His love into my hearts and let His love heal me. It is only with the love of Jesus that I can love our enemies, so that they too can be healed. It is only then that I may go forth to truly serve – not for the sake of pride, but for the sake of love. It is only then that I can serve the way Jesus teaches us in the Gospel this week, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” (verse 35)
Let us break free from the sin of pride, go forth to love and to serve. Peace be with you, my dear brothers and sisters.