HOMILY for Thu 10th Week OT (II)
We don’t choose our family. They are a gift, or some might say, imposed. Whichever perspective one takes, it’s true that our family, our brothers and sisters are, at the very least, just other persons we have to live and interact with. We first learn from our siblings how to relate to other people; our social skills are learnt with them, in the first place, and only later with our friends, who are chosen. As such, it is in the communion of the family that we first learn to love, and indeed, to hate. It’s a sobering thought, and perhaps it says something of the dangerous reality of sibling rivalry, to recall that the first instance of murder in the Bible takes place between brothers.
With this in mind, we note that the word ‘brother’ appears four times in today’s short Gospel passage, so that Christ seems to be warning us against the simmering rivalry and hatred of Cain for his younger brother Abel, and to defuse this with love. And the way to love is to see our brother as a person, to engage in dialogue with him so as to understand and sympathize with him, and to form common goals. In this way, our brother becomes a friend, an equal. But very often when a conflict arises between people, when we disagree with someone or find them difficult, when we become angry with others, the tendency is not to seek dialogue and commonality but to distance ourselves, and alienate and make inferior the other. And often this is done through name calling. The Aramaic term translated as “fool” in today’s Gospel is raka, and it is condemned by the Lord because in using it, one brother dismisses another, judges him to be worthless, and makes himself superior. For when we insult another person by calling them “fool”, we show a contempt not just for their ideas but for them as persons.
The same unloving dynamic applies when we exhibit a tendency to label people, especially those we disagree with. In the Church today, brothers and sisters in Christ can disagree and have different perspectives on many contemporary issues – moral, liturgical, cultural. And sometimes, a kind of cold war seems to develop, and people are branded as ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’, and so on. But once we resort to these ideological labels, we no longer engage with the person as equals. Perhaps we prefer this because labels and boxed-up ideas are easier to deal with, but persons are much more complex and, thereby, much more difficult to engage with. It takes trust, patience, listening, respect, and openness. It takes a will to love the other as my brother and sister, to try and see his or her concerns, and in the process, to risk being touched, moved and changed. And change, as we know, can seem very threatening. But isn’t that what the risk of friendship, and indeed, love, does to us?
So, as with the communion of the family, so, too, in the communion of the Church we are placed together with brothers and sisters whom we have not chosen. Like in any family, younger siblings in the Church can upset our familiar patterns and relationships; they challenge our settled ideas. But these brothers and sisters are given to us, so that we can either learn to love them, or keep them and their views at bay, regarding them as rivals or even objects of murderous sibling anger. Today’s Gospel, it seems to me, invites us as brothers and sisters in Christ to dare to dialogue with one another, listening to one another’s concerns, hopes, and fears. We’re invited to befriend one another.
If we take the risk of this tactful and engaged loving, we will also draw closer to God who is the Love who has first entered into dialogue with sinful humanity, engaging with us, and calling us into a communion of love – friendship – with him.