Epistle Corinthians 4:9-16

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be! All of us, at some time or another, have faced some kind of ridicule, being looked down on and judged by someone else, being singled out. This happens in so many ways. Kids with each other and in school, as we’re in the world or at our workplaces, even in the Church or in our homes with our families. So often we find ourselves being judged in some way, looks, clothes, interests, faith and morals. The list is endless because we can all be singled out and attacked for basically everything about us, depending on who we’re with at any given time.

And when we’re treated like this, we have a tendency to react in one of several ways. We get our feelings hurt and we become dejected—we get down on ourselves and we wonder what’s wrong with the way that we do things, what’s wrong with us. One of our most common responses to being looked down on is to begin to mimic, to look down on ourselves. The other most common reaction is anger—to be angry with those who are mistreating us, to lash out in some type of retaliation, to stew in our anger and just despise the people who ridiculed/questioned us. Depression/sadness, and anger, these are the two ways we normally react when our interactions with people leave us with the idea that we’re being looked down on, or made fun of, or in some other way unfairly treated.

The Apostles dealt with this type of reception everywhere they went, from people they knew, and people they didn’t know. They were persecuted at every turn. And in our Epistle reading this morning, St. Paul reminds us of how we’re supposed to respond when we find ourselves being mistreated by others. [We are not talking abuse here, that’s another level where some intervention may be needed, we’re only talking about the terrible way we as human being tend to treat one another]

“Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat” (12b-13a). It’s not arrogance to take this verse and apply it to our lives. Even if our “persecutions” aren’t on the level of St. Peter and the Apostles, and even if we’re not really being treated that bad, or for our faith—this verse still provides us with guidelines for how we’re to act, and what even how we’re to think when we’re confronted with revilement, persecution, and defamation. In other words, how to deal with something we face almost every day. *First note that this isn’t simply a psychological answer, the way the Apostles react has nothing to do with positive thinking and coping skills. This verse takes us to a deeper level. If you’ll take note, as we talk about each of these three proper ways to respond, we’ll see that we’re called to respond with love and virtue that counter the attacks we may come under.

Being reviled, we bless (v.12)
To revile is to hate, so being hated, we’re called to bless—to pour out from love and goodness. Blessing is the opposite of hating. Christ says, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

Being persecuted, we endure (v. 12)
The purpose of persecution (other than simple humiliation) is to cause the one being persecuted to change. To make the tormented to be like the tormentor. In the face of persecution, St. Paul says, we endure. We stand steadfastly. There’s no lashing back or trying to get the other to change, we simply resist persecution by refusing to be beaten, by endurance.

Being defamed, we entreat (v. 13)
Entreat—exhort, encourage. Having our reputation destroyed, we still turn to other and encourage them. No matter what type of attack on our person we have to endure, no one can force us to change. The ridicule the Apostles endured, sure it hurt, it saddened them, but nothing that the crowds could say would ever make them change. Realizing this, they were able to encourage others. It all comes down to reaction—the Apostles, and ourselves, we can’t do anything about how people will treat us, how people will respond to us. What we can, and must, control, is our reaction. And the Apostle makes very clear this morning that our usual reactions aren’t the right ones. We’re called on to bless others, to endure persecution, and to encourage others who are going through the same things—in other words, as we mentioned earlier, we respond with love and virtue that counter the attacks we may come under.

Abbot Jonah, soon to be (God-willing) the auxillary bishop in our diocese, has some words about how we engage people who are out to get us in some way (reviled, persecute, defame, ridiculed):
“We must learn to not react. This is just a corollary of ‘turn the other cheek.’ When somebody says something hurtful, or somebody does something hurtful, what is it that’s being hurt? It’s our ego. Nobody can truly hurt us. They might cause some physical pain, or emotional pain. They might even kill our body. But nobody can hurt our true selves. [No one can snatch you from the hands of the living God, the Scripture says (John 10:28)]. We have to take responsibility for our own reactions. Then we can control our reactions. There are a number of different levels to this principle. On the most blatant level, if someone hits you don’t hit them back. Turn the other cheek – that’s the Lord’s teaching. Now, this is hard enough. But there is a deeper level still. Because if somebody hits you, and you don’t hit them back – but you resent them, and you bear anger and hatred and bitterness against them, you’ve still lost. You have still sinned. You have still broken your relationship with God, because you bear that anger in your heart… when we bear anger and resentment and bitterness in our hearts, we erect barriers to God’s grace within ourselves.”

St. Paul teaches us how to deal with persecutions and ridicules of all kind not from a utilitarian perspective—i.e. he doesn’t just want to try and keep the peace, for everyone to get along. But the way we react to others either strengthens our relationship with God and our fellow man, or as Fr. Jonah says, we erect barriers to God’s grace. And as we consider how to respond to others judgments of us, maybe it will help us be less judgmental of others. May we never do anything, in word or deed or thought, to separate us from the grace and the life of God.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

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