Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory
Are we an unusual people? An extraordinary people? Christians, I mean, are we strange? Jesus instructs his disciples to do weird things all the time. Forgive hurts. Heal the sick. Turn the other cheek. Die for the faith. Weird stuff that normal people don’t do. He says repeatedly, “You have heard it said. . .but I say. . .” He seems to be going out of his way to teach us to be freaks living among the ordinary. Even our early history as a people of faith bears this out. Early on we were accused of being misfits. We refused to do perfectly mundane things like worship the emperor, prostitute our children, pay our taxes, marry only once. All of these and more seem designed to tattoo our foreheads: ODDBALL or MONSTER. At a time when folks were rewarded for doing what everyone did and being exactly what everyone else was, standing out at the temple, the marketplace, the baths as a sign of nonconformity was not only annoying to the Normals but downright dangerous for the eccentrics. This sort of unwanted attention could mean torture and death for the Christian. There were simply too many good reasons to hate a disciple of Jesus. Why add yet another gallon of fuel to our enemy’s fire? The problem, essentially, is the Christian pursuit of perfection. No one likes a perfectionist, especially a perfectionist who preaches perfection.
Once again we come upon Jesus instructing his disciples to be living, breathing signs of His Father’s perfection. Doing the Law is just fine for those who are content to move through their lives as unfulfilled creatures of Love Himself. As difficult as it was to carry out the Law, doing so could lead the determined to a life of extraordinary purity. But this wasn’t enough for Jesus. He demanded something more from those who would pick up a cross and follow him. Just as he came to bring the Law to its full potential as a spiritual path, so we too are expected to see through the letters of the Law to its soul, to the life of sacrifice and mercy that being a child of God demands. On those occasions when we manage this herculean feat, we look like the freaks that we have vowed to be. So, where’s your tattoo? Where do you keep the badge that marks you as a monster?
From the first century document called the “Didache” to Clement’s letters to the Corinthians and on through Justin’s defense of the faith and Ireaneus’ “Work Against the Heretics,” we have been marked out as cannibals, sexual perverts, unpatriotic draft and tax-dodgers, and impious louts. Why? Because Jesus says outrageous things like, “Turn the other cheek when you are struck…don’t swear oaths…lusting after another is the same as adultery…being angry with a brother is the same as killing him…love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…I am the Son of God.” Can you blame the Jewish leaders and Roman authorities for thinking we’re daft and probably dangerous to the moral and political order?
Do we find ourselves in a similar situation today? Almost. In
So, how are we to respond? We must become better monsters, freakier freaks! The way out for us is the way in. We love our enemies and pray for them. We turn the other cheek. We proclaim to the last breath that Jesus is the Son of God. We hold to the absurd standards that sent Jesus to his death on a cross. We follow him, never looking back, taking our licks, and never once do we blame the culture. We chose this path. Now we have to walk it.
Who told you that the road to