Alienation from Others
Catholicism is not a me and Jesus religion. Catholicism is a we and Jesus religion. Getting stuck with just yourself and Jesus leads to loneliness. Let’s talk about that.
The feeling of loneliness is not confined to being physically alone. The most intense feelings of loneliness can happen in a crowd where we don’t have a connection, we feel isolated and alone in our feelings and concerns, our joys, and our sorrows.
For example, you can be in a loving marriage, a close friendship or relationship, a successful business partnership and still feel alone. Loneliness is much more than simply being without company; it is an experience of alienation and isolation that is not chosen, it feels imposed, and it’s painful.
Loneliness can happen anytime, but we are most susceptible to it in times of transition, a move to a new place, you lose a friend or family member, the holidays are over. In these times, the feeling of loneliness descends on us and can consume us.
It is important to remember that loneliness is only a feeling. It is powerful, and can be painful, but it is only a feeling. We cannot let feelings rule the major parts of our lives. We need to name our feelings, and then try and understand them. That is a big part of what this series is all about.
Have you ever wondered about the original cause of loneliness? The original cause of loneliness is sin, Original Sin. Loneliness was not a part of the experience God designed for us, but then sin entered the world. Adam and Eve disobeyed God by putting themselves at the center of things rather than holding God in the center of their lives. In Scripture we can see very clearly that their sin leads to a three-fold alienation.
The first tier in our loneliness is our alienation from others. We experience loneliness when we are separated from others either physically or emotionally, against our wishes. When Adam and Eve sinned, they started to experience problems in their marriage which is alienation from the other.
The second tier of our loneliness is our alienation from ourselves. As a result of sin, we’re not comfortable in our own skin. When Adam and Eve sinned, they quickly discovered they were “naked”, and that filled them with shame, which is alienation from their very selves.
And the third tier of loneliness is our alienation from God. When Adam and Eve sinned, they ran away and tried to hide from God. God is always present with us. But that doesn’t mean we will always feel his presence. Sin makes God’s presence much less clear and more difficult to understand. Because when we sin we are focused on ourselves, not God, so we are alienated from God.
Loneliness reminds us that we have work to do to restore harmony in our relationship with self, relationship with others, and relationship with God. Jesus offers healing and wholeness by restoring our relationship with God, thereby making possible right relationships among ourselves and within ourselves.
Today we are looking at the most obvious way we are lonely: our alienation and separation from one another. We heard in the Gospel, Jesus saying: “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
The Scribes and Pharisees considered themselves the most righteous people in Israel. They were the religious professionals, the ultimate church people. It was their job to be righteous which they defined as following the 613 laws of Moses precisely and perfectly. They dedicated and organized their lives around those laws, which were so time consuming and expensive to fulfill, that the average Jew didn’t even try. They just accepted their status of “unrighteous”.
When Jesus tells his followers their righteousness has to surpass that of the Scribes and Pharisees, that was an astonishing thing to say. Jesus wanted everyone to understand that his teaching was going to be a departure from what came before.
While the religious leaders knew the letter of the law, they had missed out on the point of the law. They had become completely focused on religious rules in order to feel and look important.
Jesus was telling the crowd that a superficial faith, a self-serving faith, is worthless. Worse still, it can keep us from the change required to be true disciples of Jesus Christ.
If this is your first time in church in a long time, or the first time ever, you might have stayed away from church precisely because of this very point. You could not stand the hypocrisy of some religious people or leaders. You did not want to come to church because you know “Christians” or “practicing Catholics” who go to church every week, never miss a Sunday, and constantly talk about their faith, but mostly in ways to make themselves look good. Yet Monday thru Saturday, they conduct themselves in ways that are far from God and are not very nice to anyone. Who would want to be associated with that? Not Jesus. He would agree with you. He probably criticized this hypocrisy more than anything else. He wasn’t about religious rules and laws. He was about transformation, transforming individuals who would then transform the world.
Hence, Jesus tells the crowd: “The old law says, ‘You shall not kill; whoever kills will be liable to judgment.” But now Jesus gives a new, deeper teaching of the law. He is teaching us to have a change of heart. He says: “But I say to you, whoever is –angry with his brother– will be liable to judgment.” The old Law applied judgment to murder. Jesus also applies this judgement to anger. Now he is talking about serious anger, anger that leads us to sin against one another, an anger that is cultivated, nurtured, and indulged.
So much of alienation from other people is traced back to this kind of deep anger. When you discover someone is angry with you, and working behind the scenes against you, you already feel wounded, alienated, vulnerable, and alone. This kind of anger creates distance between you and most everybody else. Anger is alienating. Anger, nurtured and cultivated, kills relationships. It’s an attitude of the heart to avoid, for sure. Jesus goes on to describe the right kind of heart. He says, “Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and recall that someone has anything against you, leave your gift at the altar, go first and be reconciled with that person, and then come and offer your gift.”
If you’re operating in an orbit of anger and alienation from the people around you, church attendance is not really going to help. Jesus is saying that people with the right kind of heart, make restoring relationships a priority. The righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees was only about “God and me.” Everybody else could go to hell, literally, as far as they were concerned. Some church people are still like that. It is about going to church and checking church attendance off your to-do list without any consideration of personal growth or of impacting others. Jesus Christ teaches that it can not be like that for his followers. His followers have to be about transformation, transformation of themselves and those around them. Catholicism is not a Jesus and me religion. Catholicism is a Jesus and we religion.
Obviously, you can’t do Jesus and we alone. Trying to live the Christian faith on your own is an incomplete and frustrating experience. We need others who are going in the same direction.
Here is a suggestion on how to gather with others and build relationships with others and with God. Look in our bulletin or on the homepage of our website. There you will see something called “Message Matters.” We also email this in our Newsletter every Saturday. Message Matters has both discussion starters or an entire format for a 30 minute small group discussion which is based on the homily every weekend.
You can follow the 30 minute format or simply answer some of the questions on your car ride home, at brunch, or for dinner conversation with your family or friends any day of the week. This will help jump start sharing your faith together. Message Matters.
Serious Christ followers are all about what he told us to be about: life change and transformation. That can happen most effectively in a group, where you’re known and loved, by other people who are trying to do exactly what you’re trying to do.
And, that is it. It is always that simple, just conversation, conversation that can change your mind and change your heart. Message Matters, we encourage you to check it out and see how it works for you. The message matters most when it is shared in conversation that can change your mind and change your heart. Gather with your family or some friends and see why sharing Jesus’ weekly message matters.