11th Sunday after Pentecost B
August 12, 2012
“Be a good example to others”
A story is told about two Crabs. One fine day two Crabs came out from their home to take a stroll on the sand. “Sweetheart,” said the mother, “you are walking very ungracefully. You should get used to yourself, to walking straight forward without twisting from side to side.”
“Dear mother,” said the young one, “do but set the example yourself, and I will follow you.” The story concludes with these words of wisdom: Example is the best principle.
The letter to the Ephesians in today’s reading is one of the most inspiring letters I have ever read. This letter was created due to the apparent anger and deceit within the fellowship that had become a serious concern in the Church at Ephesus. People seem to have been taking advantage of one another. Some may have been only partially reformed thieves. When people are irritated about issues, they often criticize and condemn one another mercilessly.
Paul asked the people Ephesus to do something which he never asked anyone else to do in all his other letters, something that sounds like next to impossibility. He asks them to “be imitators of God”. It is true that, as God’s children, God is our ultimate ideal. One of the covenant commands that God gave to the people of Israel is “You shall be holy; for I the LORD your God am holy”. To be holy means to be godly and to be godly means to be like God. So it makes good sense to ask Christians, who know themselves to be God’s children, to imitate God. But there is a problem. We need to see before we can imitate. As the Baby Crab reminded the Mother Crab, we need someone we can see to set the example, to walk before us and then we can follow. God is our ideal and our standard, but we need a role model. Paul has an answer ready for us, Christ is our role model.
Christ has set the example for us to follow. “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. And live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Christ is our model both in regard to the vices, the bad habits we need to uproot from our lives, and in regard to the virtues, the good habits we need cultivate.
Isn’t that a wonderful and inspiring passage? “Put away all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice”. This embraces negative thoughts, negative feelings and attitudes, negative words and negative behavior towards other people. Just as Jesus did not let any of these negative habits find a place in his thought, his discourse and his conduct, so also should we make no room for them in ours. On a more positive note, Jesus also gives us an example with regard to the positive habits and attitudes that we should cultivate in our lives. This includes thinking of other people, speaking of them or to them, and treating them with kindness, tenderness and compassion. To forgive means to give up our right to get even. Oh if you can only remember when someone said, “Lintik lang ang walang ganti!!” “Your days are numbered!!” We forgive not because the other deserves to be forgiven but because we need to forgive as God has forgiven us in Christ. If you find it hard to forgive someone, as many of us do, it is probably because you do not sufficiently appreciate how freely and totally God has forgiven you in Christ and continues to forgive you through the sacraments of the church. Forgiving others is just the first step. It costs us nothing but swallowing our pride and self -importance and letting go of the other. Following the example of Christ goes way beyond that. As the passage continues, it demands that we “live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. To love as Christ loved means not simply letting go of the guilty but denying ourselves and sacrificing something that is precious to us to help that person. In the case of Christ, he sacrificed his very self. Most likely we are not being asked to sacrifice our very lives, only certain conveniences. If we keep looking to Jesus as our model, we can.
Just before we go to the world proclaiming the love of Christ, we need one more thing. We need a spiritual coach, a step-by-step trainer who accompanies us all the way. That is the Holy Spirit. Paul advises us not to grieve or resist the Holy Spirit, our spiritual guide. “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption”. We grieve or resist the Holy Spirit when we fail to listen to His directives in our lives or, having listened to his directives, still fail to carry them out. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit not only enlightens us as to what to do but also gives us the spiritual empowerment we need to do the right thing. And so we are enabled to imitate the God we cannot see: by having our Lord Jesus Christ as our role model and the Holy Spirit of God as our step-by-step coach in our spiritual journey through life.
Let everything we say be good and helpful, so that our words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. It’s amazing how people will respond when they know that you’re rooting for them, that you are in their corner, wanting them to do well. Oftentimes, they will be willing to change when they know you’re not trying to condemn them, that you are not trying to put them down or make them feel bad about themselves. True correction always inspires people to want to do better because they become good examples through their actions.
I have discovered lately that if you’ll make it a priority to keep your emotional accounts full in your relationships, you will have far fewer problems with people receiving suggestions and receiving corrections from you. In fact one expert says the first thirty seconds of a conversation will determine the next hour. So when you have something sensitive to talk about, when you have something that has potential to cause conflict or problems, always start positively. Don’t’ end the conversation by saying, “been there, done that.” Or “I don’t want to hear it.” Make sure it is the right time to bring up the matter. Make sure that you’ve thought about how you’re going to start the conversation, and be aware of your tone of voice. Watch your body language. Keep a pleasant expression, and choose to discuss the matter in love. Remember, genuine love overlooks a fault. Love makes allowances for mistakes. True love sees the best in every person. If you want to make a huge deposit into somebody’s life, when he makes a mistake and he knows he is wrong, don’t make a big deal about it.
Don’t embarrass a child in front of other family members of friends. Don’t embarrass a anyone in front of everybody. If you must confront someone about a matter, deal with him or her in private if at all possible, and always do your best to protect the person’s dignity. Let us be a good example to each other.
If I may go back to the story of the crab, it is easy for us to notice the fault of others but often we fail to notice our own faults. Let us complement each other with the love of Christ who is the bread of life. Amen