Reading I: Exodus 22:20-26
Responsorial Psalm 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51
Reading II: 1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10
Gospel: Matthew 22:34-40
On Being Loved Sinners
We’re strange creatures, more lovely than we think and more sinful than we imagine, too hard and too easy on ourselves all at the same time.
Human nature is a curious mix. On the one hand, we’re better than we think and this beauty and goodness doesn’t just come because, deep down, we’re made in the image and likeness of God or because, as Plato and Aristotle say, we’re metaphysically good. That’s true, but our loveliness is also less abstract. We’re beautiful too, at least most of the time, in our human and moral qualities.
Most of the time, in fact, we are quite generous, often to a fault. As well, most of the time too, despite appearances, we’re warm and hospitable. The same is true in terms of the desire and scope of our embrace, both of our minds and our hearts. Inside of everyone, easily triggered by the slightest touch of love or affirmation, lies a big heart, a grand soul, a magna anima, that’s just itching to show itself. Mostly the problem isn’t with our goodness, but with our frustration in trying to live out that goodness in the world. Too often we look cold and self-centered when we’re only hurt and wounded.
We don’t always look good, but we are. Mostly we’re frustrated precisely because we cannot (for reasons of circumstance, wound, and sensitivity) pour out our goodness as we would like nor embrace the world and those around us with the warmth that’s in us. We go through life looking for a warm place to show who we are and mostly don’t find it. We’re not so much bad as frustrated. We’re more lovely than we dare imagine.
That’s the half of it. There’s another side: We’re sinners too, more so than we think. An old Protestant dictum about human nature, based upon St. Paul, puts it accurately: “It’s not a question of are you a sinner? It’s only a question of what is your sin?” We’re all sinners and, just as we possess a big heart and a grand soul, we also possess a petty one (a pusilla anima). Inside us too, congenitally, there’s selfishness, jealousy, and a pettiness of heart and mind that is never far from the surface.
Moreover, generally, we are blind to our real faults. As Jesus says, we too easily see the speck on our neighbor’s eye and miss the plank in our own. There’s a real contradiction here: Where we think we’re sinners is usually not the place where others struggle the most with us and where our real faults lie. Conversely it’s in those areas where we think we’re virtuous and righteous that, most often, our real sin lies and where others struggle with us.