Mahatma Gandhi once said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” One of the biggest challenges in Christianity is dealing with the inconsistency between the ideals of Jesus and the behavior of fellow Church members, which varies from saintly to horrific. Church history tells us that this has always been the case.
The parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43) this Sunday and the parable of the dragnet (Matthew 13:47-50) next Sunday make the same point. The Church has good and bad people in it, and we have to deal with it until the Last Judgment, and then God will separate them. This has a number of consequences.
We’re going to meet people in church who are not very nice. This is not a sign that the church is a fraud or that it is failing, but that it is working the way Jesus said it would.
Dealing with such folks is not preventing us from living the Christian life and being Church, but it is a part of living the Christian life and being Church, and will be until the
end of time.
We don’t get to throw people out for not being good enough. Excommunication is an extreme measure that is medicinal in purpose for the individual (1 Corinthians 5:1-5 and
possibly 2 Corinthians 2:5-11). When people are approaching the sacraments improperly and they will do harm and not good, it can, under the right circumstances, be an act of charity to warn them. Postponing the celebrating of a sacrament until it can be done right can be a necessary, if painful task.
We don’t get to decide who is real and who is not. The best of us do bad things and the worst of us do good things. God knows what is in our hearts. We might decide who we are going trust, and for what. I hope you would trust me to teach the Catholic faith. I hope you would not trust me to do surgery, fix your car, or even cut your hair. We can say that some behaviors are right and some behaviors are wrong. We don’t know where people stand with God. At the end all will be made clear (See 1 Corinthians 4:1-5).
Just because we are in the Church does not automatically make us the good guys. We are not called to fear. We are called to confidence in God’s mercy and grace being able to transform us. We do not get to be complacent or relax our efforts (1 Corinthians 9:27).
There is no escaping the last judgment. We will then know everybody’s stuff and everybody will know our stuff. Does thinking about that make us want to make different decisions?
Part of being a member of the Church is dealing with each other as flawed human beings. It is in dealing with these flaws that we often grow, stretch and become more virtuous. This,
by the way, does not mean we can be lackadaisical in our struggle for virtue, so that we can be training for others. Jesus was quite fierce about that (Matthew 18:6-9; Luke 17:1-3. See
also Romans 3:8).
This means we have the challenge of striving mightily for sainthood with high standards of behavior, while reconciling ourselves to the fact that we are going to be dealing with fellow
Christians who are less than inspiring. This is part of how we give the gift of ourselves, part of how we live the Pascal Mystery. To pull this off we are going to need lots and lots of grace. For this we pray hard.