Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Flute players, dancers and Christians

Gospel reading for September 18, 2013
LK 7:31-35

Jesus said to the crowds:

“To what shall I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children who sit in the marketplace and call to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance. We sang a dirge, but you did not weep.’ For John the Baptist came neither eating food nor drinking wine, and you said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking and you said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”


What Jesus said about his generation, can be said of every generation. The spirit of the world, in every generation, was and is such that it has its official representatives in political, social and even religious establishments. The temptation always has been that when they play the flute, you’re supposed to dance. And when they sing a dirge, you’re supposed to weep.

Or to use a contemporary example, when our modern day establishments say that to be compassionate means to accept the same-sex lifestyle, people are expected to march to that drum beat. To refuse to march, is to pay a price: socially, legally or politically. E-Harmony, the on-line dating service, the Boy Scouts, and the Episcopalian church, just to name a few, were all told to march; and that is exactly what they did. But they compromised their moral convictions and any good standing they might had with Christ.

As human beings, our instinct to socially conform to others is strong; it is even stronger than our humanitarian instincts. In fact, after World War II, many Germans were asked why they did not intervene to stop the atrocities and human rights violations against the Jews. The German soldiers claimed that they were following orders and the citizens themselves said that they did what was expected of them. Such was the power of the German establishment. Indeed, the flute was played and the Germans danced. But a lot of people died in the process.

Not much has changed, has it? Every culture had its popular people, its elite and its establishments. To be sure, the spirit of the world has always been powerfully manifested through group-think people in every age. The problem is that they are, generally speaking, unprincipled people. St. John the Baptist fasted but he was condemned by his contemporaries for being too strict. And Jesus drank wine and dined with sinners but he was also condemned for playing fast and loose.

Furthermore, each generation shaped by the spirit of the world is little concerned with the truth and unbothered by contradictions. And if they have any standard at all, it is to keep in line with the people they surround themselves with. This is why such a standard leads to immorality and self-destruction. This is also why there is no anchor or objective moral standard apart from their tendency to conform to one another. St. Paul made reference to this class of people when he said, “[W]hen they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.” (II Cor. 10:12)

To be without understanding is to do things blindly. And such blindness moves us closer to the abyss. In other words, to dance, when they play the flute; to weep, when they sing a dirge is a current that leads away from God. This is precisely why Christ went out of his way in Luke 7:31-35 to not only to criticize this manner of living, but to ridicule it!!  In the years that followed, his Apostles drew a sharp contrast between lovers of the world and lovers of God. As for St. James, he said: “Do you not know that to be a lover of the world means enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wants to be a lover of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4) The two loves are indeed diametrically opposed to one another. But there are plenty of nominal Christians who say that the two loves can be reconciled.

Nevertheless, what Christ warned us of is that every generation, like his generation, has its own establishment or predominate class of people who will criticize you no matter what you do or say if you do not conform to their ways. Can it be any wonder, then, that his eighth beatitude bids us to do the very opposite of what we are inclined to do when we are persecuted for being his disciple? We are not to just tolerate it when our generation speaks evil of us, but our Lord challenges us to take it a step further. He said, "Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you (falsely) because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

That's right. To be his disciple a person must be firmly embrace the Cross, a Sign that Contradicts. As for the person of Jesus, he referred to as the Rock. He is the only immovable Rock; a standard that never changes and a sure guarantee that whoever clings to him will resist unsafe currents. But to resist unsafe currents that us lead nowhere, we must be fully alive in Christ. As Fulton Sheen once said, "Dead bodies float downstream; it takes live bodies to resist the current."

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