Do followers of Jesus Christ act differently than people who claim no faith? Think about that. When followers of Jesus discuss politics, do they act in a more understanding way? When Orthodox Christians discuss with someone who disagrees with them about masks and vaccines, do they respond differently? When someone attacks people of faith, criticizes them, ridicules their point of view, or seriously offends them, do they respond differently? Or do they act like everyone else?
What I really want to ask is DO YOU and DO I act differently than our friends who don’t follow Jesus Christ and don’t call themselves Orthodox Christians? Can our friends see a difference in the way YOU and I USE OUR WORDS, in OUR ACTIONS, and in OUR REACTIONS to people with whom we disagree?
This is a serious question we need to soberly reflect on today. DO WE ACT differently than those who don’t believe or is there no difference between us and them? And if there is no difference, WHY? If a bystander would observe us throughout the day, what would they see?
I read an article on Friday by David Brooks in the NY Times entitled “America is Falling Apart at the Seams.” He notes how all kinds of bad behavior is on the rise. Reckless driving and accidents have increased. The number of altercations on airplanes has exploded. Nurses say patients are getting more abusive. Teachers are facing a rising tide of disruptive behavior. Hate crime reports have surged to the highest level in 12 years. The murder rate is increasing in cities. Mental illness, depression and suicides are at epidemic levels. The drug and addiction crisis continues to get worse as we all know people who have overdosed.
Brooks notes that “Americans’ hostility toward one another seems to be growing while care for one another seems to be falling.” One example is how charitable donations have decreased from 66% of American families giving to charities in 2000 to less than 50% giving any type of charitable donations. Half of Americans offer no support to charities!
All this negativity may be symptomatic of the terrible disconnect people feel toward one another. People are lonelier than ever, feeling isolated, feeling like they don’t belong to any meaningful or life-giving community and having few, if any, healthy relationships. Thus, people don’t feel a responsibility for one another and don’t feel the need to be kind or supportive to their neighbor. They see little responsibility to build up and bring light in the darkness.
Brooks doesn’t offer any solutions but simply comments that it feels like we are living “in a society that is dissolving from the bottom up as much as from the top down.” He does suggest that this is a spiritual and moral problem at the core of our society and even notes how we now live in a nation where the majority of our population are no longer members of a church.
So, we return to my opening question. Do followers of Jesus Christ, do we Orthodox Christians, act differently than people who claim no faith in our behavior and contribution to society, or do we contribute to this dissolving and destruction of our society?
We can set up plenty of scenarios in which we see people react with passion and anger and even vitriol, but I will simply mention two of the most prevalent these days. This pandemic has tired the entire world as it enters into its third year and people’s passions are raw when it comes to mask, vaccines, boosters, quarantining and the good of our neighbor. Has this pandemic made us more sympathetic toward our neighbor or has it led us to judge the other, get angry at the other, argue and condemn the other? Has it helped us try to understand and empathize with the other or divided us from our neighbor and former friend and even family member and left us too self-righteous and quite furious at the other?
Our politics, combined with the propaganda of our news outlets, have created an atmosphere which instills fear, anger and even hatred toward the other side. The other is no longer our family member, our friend, or our neighbor with whom we have different political views but we have caricaturized the other into something different, our enemy whom we must despise and defeat.
We could give plenty of other scenarios but my focus is on whether followers of Jesus Christ, whether we Orthodox Christians, act differently than people who claim no faith in these and other situations?
Think about what you post on social media? Think about how you talk with those whom you disagree? Think about your emotions and feelings and how you control, or don’t control, them? Think about what you are contributing to this dissolving of society?
Jesus told His followers that “YOU are the light of the world… let your light shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” We are called to be the salt of the earth that gives flavor to society. Jesus called us the yeast that impacts and leavens the entire dough of society. What contribution are we making to society?
Do our daily words and social media posts and actions reflect light or do we contribute to the darkness? Do our words build up and bring grace to the hearers, as Saint Paul commanded us to do, or do our words tear people down, create walls of hostility, and turn others into enemies? Do people see in us kindness, understanding, and empathy as we listen to those with whom we disagree and do they see us trying to understand their fears and concerns, even if we may think they seem irrational?
Do our words and actions and example glorify God and go counter-cultural to what’s happening in society or are we simply adding to the darkness? As our world seems to be self-destructing from the bottom up, how do we act differently than others in providing an example of self-sacrificial love, in boundless mercy, in amazing grace, in actions and words that can change the trend of society?
It doesn’t matter if the majority of Americans no longer are members of church communities and it doesn’t matter if authentic followers of Jesus Christ make up only a small minority of our society, it doesn’t matter IF WE ARE AN ENLIGHTENED MINORITY, if we are a minority ENLIGHTENED AND INSPIRED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT.
We act as true ambassadors of Christ by imitating Him and following His teachings to love our enemy, to forgive those who seek to harm us (forgiving them other countless times), to show mercy and compassion to those around us. Saint Paul tells us that when “when we are cursed, we are to bless the other; when we are persecuted, we endure patiently, and when we are slandered, we even answer back kindly.”
We hear similar words in today’s epistle from Saint Paul, when he challenges us to “Put to death what is earthly in you… anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk from your mouth… put off the old nature with its practices in which you once walked and put on the new nature, which is being renewed in our knowledge of God.”
Let’s seriously take a self-examination and reflect on what others see in us, in how others see our words and actions, and on whether our example is contributing to the negativity and destruction of the social fabric of our society or to the building up and healing of our society.
Do followers of Jesus Christ act differently during these challenging times than people who claim no faith? What do people see in us?!?