Do you find it difficult to admit that you’re a Christian? Or even worse to admit that you’re a Catholic? Most of us hate to be laughed at don’t we, but nowadays some people will not just laugh at us, when they discover that we are believers, but will be downright rude. Yet we know that part of our duty, part of the way we are meant to be faithful to Jesus, is not just to admit that we follow him, but actually to share our faith with others. Jesus says very explicitly, “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19) and Paul tells us to “Proclaim the message” to “Be persistent” and to “convince, rebuke, and encourage”(2 Tim 4:2)
Now don’t worry. I’m not suggesting that you should be the sort of Christian who confronts people in the street. Why not? Because the other side of being a Christian is what we heard in our Readings today, where we are encouraged to be “Gentle” as in our Gospel (Matt 5:1-12) and to be “a humble and lowly people” as in our 1st Reading (Zeph 1:3. 3:12-13). The problem is that we cannot pick and choose which bits of Christianity we want to follow. We cannot use the teaching on humility and gentleness to let us off the hook, to allow us to keep quiet about our faith, because we might upset someone. No, somehow we have to do both. To share our faith, but to do it gently.
Before I suggest how to manage this difficult balancing act, I think we need to be very clear that there is no point in avoiding the accusation some will fling at us, that our beliefs are foolish and stupid. Now that may make us angry, not least because people who say things like this usually do so out of ignorance of what we actually believe. It is annoying and hurtful to be treated as idiots, or for the Church to be described with contempt; but listen again to what Paul says in our 2nd Reading (1 Cor 1:26-31) “Those whom the world thinks common and contemptible are the ones that God has chosen – those who are nothing at all to show up those who are everything”
In other words, if we want the whole world to think well of us, to realise what splendid people Christians are, then we have got things totally wrong. The values of the world, where success is measured by how popular we are, how rich we are, how powerful we are, will always conflict with the values of a people who follow Jesus. He rejected all those things, and proclaimed instead a message of love and mercy.
So being humble and gentle as we proclaim the faith does not mean avoiding conflict and disagreement. That’s the let-out clause for those who say that they don’t like tell people about their faith because it might upset them. Such upsets are inevitable. Upsetting people is a risk we have to take, just as Jesus did. But that doesn’t mean we have to seek confrontation, does it.
Let me give you an example that might surprise you. One of the major sins in our world today is…. – now what are you expecting I will say? …. – well I think it is moaning about things, it is being negative about everything, it is running other people down, and that includes gossiping. As Christians, we have to confront such things don’t we, but have to do so gently and maybe with humour. We have to point to the good in people, not in some sloppy way that pretends they’re perfect, but in a realistic way that accepts that we all mess up. Sometimes the best way will be to say, “Oh I can be like that sometimes.. we all have our bad days”.
I recently saw a clip online on how to combat racism. If we see someone being abused, our temptation is either to say nothing, probably because we’re afraid, or to argue with the abuser. The clip suggested that the best approach, the best way to diffuse the situation, is actually to start a conversation with the person being abused, to go and sit beside them and treat them with friendship and respect. In other words, there are ways of confronting evil that gently changes things without creating more confrontation. Jesus sets an example here, because when people challenged him, instead of arguing back he sometimes told a story, sometimes even a funny story, or asked a question. Think of the woman caught committing adultery. They are raging against her, but Jesus simply asks if there is anyone here who is without sin, and suggests only that person has the right to throw stones. May we be more like him.