Do Not Fear the Water

An Everyday Stewardship Reflection for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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I remember when all three of my children were learning to swim. In the beginning, it seemed like no matter how much assurance I gave them, they were certain of drowning. Even after watching me float in the water, they were pretty sure their bodies were created to sink. In time, they grew more comfortable in the water. Eventually, they could even swim the length of the pool. But this did not happen overnight. They had to grow in their faith that swimming was possible, not just for others, but for them as well.

Too many of us who are Christians believe that holiness is for someone else. We believe that the stories of the saints are about super-humans who had something in greater supply than us. When our faith is weak, we assume that we can never have the faith of these holy men and women.

On the contrary, faith and holiness are not things only possible for a few. But we must practice our faith to grow in our faith. We must strive for holiness if we are to become holy.

Like a child fears the water before they can swim, we often fear the path that leads to greater faith or holiness. We are not convinced that God can work in our lives to create a saint. Yet except for Mary, the Immaculate Conception, every saint was a sinner. God called every saint to exit the boat and walk toward Jesus on the water. In time, with practice and trust in God, they found they did not sink either.

Labels

We are all guilty of name-calling from time to time. It’s human nature when you are frustrated, angry, or have been mistreated to lash out with an insult.  We like to label people too.  We label people by political leaning, intelligence, attractiveness, personality, behavior…. Even our Lord had labels attached to him:  glutton, drunkard, blasphemer.

But name-calling and labels aren’t helpful.  In fact, a recent study showed that the way to end racial bias, for instance, is not by calling people racist.  It puts people on the defensive and makes them resistant to the kind of dialogue needed for change.  The results of the study seem like common sense to me, but we still do it.

The Scripture has no shortage of instruction regarding the words that flow from our lips:  “No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4.29) – “All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. [And] be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.” (Ephesians 4.31-2).

And then from Jesus (and this is pretty tough): But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’* will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.” (*empty headed/imbecile)

I’ve got a lot of work to do!

Even seemingly innocent labels can put people in a box when we are far more complicated than conservative/liberal or introvert/extrovert, for instance.  Labels do have a way of cutting to the chase in order to make a point, but it’s good to be reminded that labels don’t tell the whole story; and in a society that is experiencing much division, it is ever more important that Christians pay attention to the precision of our speech.