In our message series this week, we consider the problem of social competition. Although few would openly admit to it, “keeping up with the Joneses” pretty much is expected behavior in today’s social climate. A disconnect has always existed, however, between religious values and the race to accumulate material possessions.
In the first reading today from the Book of Wisdom, for example, the wicked of the world want to persecute and condemn the “just man” to a shameful death. They have convinced themselves that there is no God and have decided to “enjoy the good things” of the earth with abandon, filling themselves with “costly wine and perfumes” and acting immorally, relying on their own “strength [as their only] norm of justice” (Wisdom 2:1-11). As Saint Paul writes, they focus not on God, but on their own bellies (Philippians 3:19).
The wicked band together to mistreat the person who loves justice and acts morally and uprightly because he is “obnoxious.” The just man is insufferable to them because he does not condone or participate in their behavior. They want to kill him because he condemns their worldly values and passions (Wisdom 2).
To be clear, however, what makes the righteous person obnoxious is not necessarily his or her express disapproval. The Bible says that “merely to see him is a hardship for [the wicked]” (Wisdom 2:14), because his lifestyle, which is “not like other men’s” (Wisdom 2:15), reminds them of their iniquity. In other words, the moral conduct of a just person shames others without having to say a word.
Even today, serious Christians often are ridiculed and mocked as “little goody two shoes,” Victorian prudes, or uptight prisses because they are perceived as abstaining from the game of keeping score and striving for social advantage. Those who follow the principles of Christian stewardship—grateful for God’s blessings and generous is passing them along—are still very much held in disdain by some people.
Yet, as Scripture reminds us, “the souls of the just are in the hand of God” (Wisdom 3:1).
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
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