We have all heard the expression, "people who live in glass houses should not throw stones." Today we will dig into that expression. Let me begin today by asking you a question. Have you ever taken delight in the misfortune of another person? Be honest. There is a German word (Schadenfreude) which refers to the emotion of pleasure in another person's misfortune. Schadenfreude is considered by many to be morally evil and even less acceptable than envy which is one of the 7 deadly sins. A philosopher once said: "To feel envy is human, to savor schadenfreude is devilish." There is an old Russian joke that captures perfectly the essence of this emotion. It comes in the form of the "Peasant's Prayer:" "Dear God, my neighbor Ivan has a pig, and I have none. Please God, kill my neighbor's pig."
George Will once quipped: "schadenfreude - enjoyment of other persons' misfortunes - is almost the national pastime."
American author Gore Vidal once said, "It is not enough to succeed; others must fail."
At times our personal pride can become dangerous. When we compare ourselves to another person, our pride can at times lead to resentment, which in turn, leads to indignation, which turns to self-righteousness and this often finds us delighting in the misfortune of another person.
We unfortunately can be judgmental people. How many times have you heard the expression, "I think it's a case of the pot calling the kettle black"? It always seems easier to find the fault in another person than to acknowledge our own.
What does the Bible have to say about all of this? Let's take a look.
Proverbs 24: 17
"Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and when they stumble, do not let your heart exult."
Matthew 7: 1-5
"Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove that splinter from your eye,' while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother's eye."
We saw an example of this concept of seeing the fault in others but not ourselves in this past Sunday's Gospel reading from Luke 15: 28-30. The older brother when he heard of the feast that was being thrown for the return of his brother became indignant and he himself sinned by his actions:
"He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, 'Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.'"
There may be no bigger example of this idea of taking delight in the misfortune of others than the way Christians react to the failings of other Christians. How many times have we heard someone refer to another Christian as a hypocrite? When we see the failings of a church leader who was preaching and teaching the word of God and they themselves then fail, does that make them a hypocrite or rather does it make them simply another sinner?
Of course we all know the news media takes great delight when a leader of any Christian denomination fails in a public way, but my more piercing question is do you also find delight in it, especially when it is a leader in a denomination other than yours? Many Christians use the failings of a member of their own denomination as the reason why they leave that denomination or why they leave the faith all together. Here is a news flash: WE ARE ALL SINNERS! Yes, even Christian leaders are sinners. Don't let the way in which you respond to one of these news items regarding the failure of another be like the person responding with the beam in his own eye.
Let me examine two separate incidents. The first involves Cardinal Keith O'Brien. Here is what one headline stated:
"UK's top cardinal accused of 'inappropriate acts' by priests " and the article went on to say, "Three priests and a former priest in Scotland have reported the most senior Catholic clergyman in Britain, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, to the Vatican over allegations of inappropriate behavior stretching back 30 years."It was alleged that he attempted to engage in sex with these other men.
The article then went on to tell us that Cardinal O'Brien has been an outspoken opponent of gay rights, condemning homosexuality as immoral, opposing gay adoption, and most recently arguing that same-sex marriages would be "harmful to the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of those involved". Then it concludes by telling us that last year he was named "bigot of the year" by the gay rights charity Stonewall.
Yet another Headline read: "Cardinal O'Brien: Big homo" and this article, sympathetic to gays, then went on to say, "May he burn in hell".
None of us know what goes on in the mind and heart of another human being. Perhaps Cardinal O'Brien spoke out so much and was so strongly opposed to homosexuality because he knew that he himself had these feeling and tendencies and fought against them his entire life. Perhaps he was no hypocrite at all; but rather, someone who strongly recognized the moral incorrectness of homosexuality even though he had those desires and preached to help others see the wrong in acting on these desires. Just because a person sins does not mean they endorse the sin itself. I think if all of us are honest, we detest our own sins and sinful habits even though we fall into their evil trap. I have no idea if Cardinal O'Brien is a hypocrite, and it is not my place to judge. I, like all of you, have my own beam in my eye!
Now let me close with one more incident. This one strikes much closer to home. This past weekend it became known that a good friend of mine, a Catholic Priest, was accused of allegations of sexual misconduct with a minor. These allegations just made headlines on Monday morning. Are the allegations true? I don't know. I can tell you this, I wrote my friend and told him that whether or not the allegations are true does not change my friendship with him. He is a man of God. I will continue to pray for him and offer my Christian love to him. I will also pray for the person who made the allegations. Again, whether or not the allegations are true, this individual deserves my prayers.
Perhaps no other issue has dominated the press as much as the "priest scandal" in the Catholic church. The issue of sexual allegations against clergy is by no means a Catholic only issue. In the recent past, we have had Jimmy Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart and Ted Haggard, just to name a few non-Catholics. What we all need to pay attention to is the power of Satan and his ability to bring down strong men of God. These men were no doubt called by God to be leaders in Christianity. I am sure they spent countless hours in prayer and scripture study. Yet, the tempter found their weakness and used it to bring harm to the church. If Satan can reach these men of God, how much more vulnerable then are we? We must all be on guard. And we must all learn to forgive others as we want to be forgiven for our own trespasses.
As to the issue of pedophilia within the church, I feel like I have a personal right to have a strong opinion on this subject. After remaining silent for nearly 50 years, I made it known about two years ago that I too had been molested by a priest. When I was a small child growing up Catholic in a small town, attending Catholic school, I was the victim of inappropriate sexual conduct thrust upon me by a Catholic priest immediately after serving mass for the first time. It happened right in the sacristy of the church. After being silent on this for so long, I am amazed that I just put it in writing here for the world to see.
Did the actions of this priest cause me issues? You bet they did, shame and embarrassment to just name a few. Did I ever tell anyone? No, I was too afraid and embarrassed. So why bring it up here and why bring it up now? One reason of course is because my friend is facing these allegations and there is another possible victim like me. The second and more important reason I want to bring it up now is to address forgiveness.
I, long ago, completely forgave the priest who abused me. He is dead now, but I hope to one day, Lord willing, meet him in heaven. Christ died for his sins and mine. Too many people have used the abuse issue to leave the church or their faith. It only served to make my faith in our forgiving God stronger. Others would say the Church mishandled it and covered it up. The church is made up completely of sinners, even the leaders. They make mistakes too and deserve forgiveness.
Christ died for all sins and to bring forgiveness and salvation to all repentant sinners. This includes murderers, rapists, pedophiles, adulterers, liars, tax cheats, and the list goes on and on. My purpose today is to remind us all that we too are sinners. Some people's sins become more public than others. Some people's sins rise to the level of criminal offenses, but nonetheless, they are sins and they are forgivable. Which of your sins would you want made public? How would you want others to react if you were forced to wear the scarlet letter? How would you want others to react if allegations were made against you and had not yet been proven? How would you want others to react to you if they were proven? Again, lets look at what Jesus told us to do:
Matthew 18: 21-22
"Then Peter approaching asked him, 'Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?' Jesus answered, 'I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times."
The devil takes great delight when he can stir up animosity and mistrust. Satan loves to place mistrust among Christians. He doesn't want anyone to believe in God's power so he plays on our suspicions. Jesus, on the other hand, seeks to bring people together. Satan's goal is to cause division and destroy relationships. There is no room in Christianity for self-righteous indignation. We are all sinners!
I started off with the expression, "people who live in glass houses should not throw stones," allow me to conclude with Jesus' words "let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone." Here is a pile of stones in case anyone qualifies to throw one. I know I don't.
Lord, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
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