One recurring theme that I have encountered in my ministry, is the difficulty that people of faith sometimes find in living among neighbors that don’t share their values. How it can be hard to be a sign of God’s love in a community when that gift is not accepted. It might seem counter-intuitive but trying to be a positive influence does not always lead to an easier life. Our scriptures remind us that this is not a new or a unique experience.
Our reading from the book of Wisdom talks about this dynamic, between those who try to live according to God’s law and those who seemingly don’t. It does so not from the viewpoint of the believer but instead, by trying to see from the other perspective of those who would seek to discredit people who are trying to live a good life. It is an attempt to understand their motivation to help us empathize with them so we can try to reach out in a different way. The reading does not describe every situation, after all people are unique and every story is different. But it gives us a starting point for challenging our own understanding of people we may find difficult.
It begins with hopelessness. For those who struggle to find meaning and who see no hope for the future, life is can be painful or even just boring. Those who approach life with joy can be an irritating reminder of that and when something is irritating our natural response is to smack it away like a biting fly.
Then there are those who have guilty consciences, those who are not happy with how they have lived their lives. The very presence a good person can seem like a judgment or accusation against them even if no words are exchanged.
And then there are those who have been hurt and find it hard to trust. They watch and wait for the good person to trip up and do something wrong. They see evidence of a good person being “only human” as a sign of hypocrisy. They look for validation that people are untrustworthy as a way of normalizing the hurt they have experienced.
What these motivations have in common is that they do not describe bad people but, rather, people who are suffering. People who most need our empathy and compassion. We can’t change the behavior of others, but we can change our own ways and try our best to understand where others are coming from.
What can we do? It’s not easy to make ourselves available to people who have hurt us, who talk about us. But the more we do the better chance we have of letting someone who is suffering know that we are not going to abandon them like others have.
Let’s put aside judgment and our own self-righteousness and focus instead on love and compassion for our neighbor no matter who they are or their status in the community. We remember that Jesus had no problem sitting at anyone’s table.
And be authentic in your beliefs. We are all human and we all make mistakes, but to the best of our ability we must be people of our word and live what we believe.
Most importantly don’t lose hope yourself and don’t give up on others. Jesus spent his entire ministry dealing with difficult people and in the end, he gave his life for all of them including you and me.