“The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.” ~ Richard Rohr
This morning, with my coffee, I read, as usual, in no particular order, my email, Facebook notifications, and news. Some of my email is summarized news, which is where I started today.
I’ve come to believe that coffee energizes or unnerves me, depending on where I am emotionally to start with. Yesterday I was energized. The day before, I was shaking with anxiety. Same amount of coffee. Hmm. What’s that about?
What it is about is my responsibility to myself, to appropriate self-care, looking after my own emotional state, first and foremost. I need to clean the inside of my own “cup”, as Jesus advised.
He said this, according to the Gospel of Matthew (23:26), as part of an extended exchange with the religious leaders of the time, who were also in many ways the political leaders as well.
The exchange comes shortly after his “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem, riding a donkey, an event we celebrate even today on Palm Sunday. That day, Jesus rode into town to the fanfare of the crowds, going directly to the temple, where he drew the ire of the religious leaders by tossing over the money changing tables.
Money changing was part of the onerous level of religious expectation. You couldn’t use Roman coins for your temple gifts and shopping. Yes, shopping. The temple grounds were filled with animals for sale at exorbitant prices. If you wanted to make a sacrifice, of the required type and quality, you paid through the nose. Jesus called the temple a den of thieves, rather than a House of Worship.
This exchange was the beginning of the end for Jesus. The political system and religious system worked together in earnest to precipitate his arrest and death. It’s like Jesus decided that under the circumstances he could be pointed in his comments about that system.
He told them a story about two sons whose father asked them to do certain tasks on the farm. One son said, “Sure, Dad!” and then as some sons do, went on to completely ignore the father’s request. But the other who at first said “Nope! Can’t help you, Dad,” went on to do exactly what he had been assigned to do. Which son, Jesus asked, was obedient?
The answer was an easy one; the second son was obedient. “Well,” replied Jesus, “be aware that people you look down upon from your critical high horse are likely much closer to God than you.” (My paraphrase.) Jesus went on to tell more stories critical of leaders who were disrespectful of others whom they regarded as being below them. The God who had always asked them to be fair in their care of widows and orphans, foreigners, and the poor (Jer. 7:5-6), was saying they obeyed in word only, focussing on outward behaviour instead of the intent of the heart.
And so, Jesus concluded, they should look to the motivations of their own hearts first. They should clean their own cups, the insides where the tea stains accumulate, rather than pointing accusing fingers all around.
Reading the news and Facebook makes me anxious these days. While knowing what is happening in the world is important, I have to say that so much of what I read is criticism, and that criticism is becoming increasingly violent, just as it did in Jesus day. Who would have ever guessed that an American governor would face domestic terrorism for instituting laws meant to care for the vulnerable?
Today, my body reacted to stories like that, as evidenced by how shaky my handwriting appears in today’s first journal entry, after only one cup of coffee. I turned to my daily email from Richard Rohr, whose gentle words would soothe my soul, and found the quote, above, “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.”
Rohr, in an expansion of that statement in another document, reminds us that “when you don’t transform your pain you will always transmit it…, that we cannot afford to hate because we become a mirror, a disguised image of the same.” In the face of all that, we usually either fight or hide away in denial. Rohr suggests a third way, of fighting AND fleeing at once into the heart, where we clean our own “cup”, as Jesus said.
That is indeed a fight, as we struggle against our natural tendency to point fingers. What Jesus did, in the midst of trouble, even minutes before his unjust death, was to forgive. Cleaning my own cup means looking inside myself, centring into the Presence of Spirit, trusting and letting go.
This post is part of my process. May it bring you readers some peace as it has for me. May this become our better practice.