Active Hearer, Faithful Doer
Imagine that Saint James (James 1:19-27) lived among us today. Now, imagine that James is a fiery preacher of Christianity as it has been revealed to him, and preached a sermon that said what he conveys in this letter. He calls out those who are “hearers but not doers,” and castigates those who are slow to hear and quick to speak, and those who are quick to anger. He labels them as vain if they think they are religious by what they say, and that they are deceiving their hearts if they do not bridle their tongues. He challenges them to care for orphans and widows and to avoid being stained by the world, to act based on their beliefs and not just talk about their isms.
How would you react if you were in the congregation hearing his sermon? Would you be “quick to speak” in disagreeing with him about your own actions? Would you immediately start categorizing all the ways you are a doer and not just a hearer? Upon reflection, would your actual actions support your conclusion that you are a doer?
Or would you listen thoughtfully as James talked? Would you hear him list the ways some people think they are doing, when in fact they are not? Would you open your heart as well as your ears and hear the ways you could improve as a doer, and move away from the inertia of just being a hearer?
How long would it take for the “twitter-verse” to hold James up for ridicule? How would the social media platforms cut and dice his words to assert that “religion is vain” or that it is not possible to care for orphans and widows because of the need to balance budgets or provide more tax support for other favoured causes? How many commentators would seek to marginalize James as an out-of-touch idealist who doesn’t really understand the “real” world? How many heavily edited videos of James’ sermon would blast the internet creating the impression that he was perhaps a bit unhinged because of his actions or words?
Now suppose Jesus lived at a time when social media existed. Jesus cures this blind man’s vision and tells him to go home and avoid the village (Mk 8:22-26). The historical Jesus knew the crowd of the day would press upon Him and would ask for cures for themselves once they heard from this man. They would be disappointed if they did not also share in this power by receiving their “share” of the miracles they “deserve” to alleviate their pains or misfortunes. Jesus knew they would misunderstand the context of the cure. He knew that the real power of miracles is not the impact it has on one person’s individual life, but the example to us all of the love of the Creator in becoming directly involved in human life.
Social media would take the event of the cure (or cures) and create vast expectations. Sceptics would find ways to debunk the legitimacy of the cures. Experts would be interviewed opining how there were non-miraculous ways these “cures” could occur and labelling Jesus as a charlatan (as He was labelled even in His own day). The media could turn this good act into a discredited event that would turn people away from Jesus and His message. Jesus knew that at times it was best for Him to be separate from the good he brought to those He loved so they would not misunderstand the nature of His love, and that of the Creator.
The ancient philosopher warrior Yoda, from a distant galaxy, far, far away, once said, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” I think of Saint Teresa of Calcutta when I hear these words. She is attributed with saying “If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.” She also was credited with saying “The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.” I also think of the Ignatian prayer for generosity, some of which says “. . . to give and not to count the cost . . . to fight and not heed the wounds . . .” Being a doer is within our ability. It can become second nature with practice. The first “do” can lead to other “doings” and the hearer over time can become a doer. But, as Yoda said, there is no try – there ultimately only is DO!
And so, my prayer today is for the grace to first be an active hearer, and then to be a faithful doer.