Greetings, SBT Readers!
There are no words to describe the evil that Putin has unleashed on Ukraine, and, by extension, on the whole world. Right now, it is the Ukrainian people who are bleeding and dying in the streets, some the victims of shelling, others, the valiant defenders trying to ward off attacks on all sides. But wars are seldom contained. History has shown us over and over again that wars have a habit of dragging others into the conflict --mercenaries, or individual nations, or coalitions of nations. The more the players, the greater capacity for conflagration. Moreover, when "strong man" tactics work, that sets the stage for further aggression -- for military incursions into neighboring countries, or for other dictators to seize the moment to launch their own brand of horror. Today, it is Ukraine that is being pummeled; tomorrow, it will be somewhere else.
Mythically speaking, Putin has opened Pandora's box, but unlike the curious Pandora, the Russian despot is fully aware of the evils and suffering he is letting loose on humanity-- not only that, but he is even brandishing his arsenal of nuclear weapons as a deterrent to opposition. Never has the world been in such a perilous situation, nor so close to the possibility of a nuclear winter. No one, anywhere, is safe.
But while Putin is clearly the mastermind behind this unfolding tragedy, the rest of the world has been complicit in empowering him and others like him. We, the world's citizens, have accepted the principle of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) and have used it to justify the proliferation of our own terrible weaponry. We, the world's citizens, have been too slow in ending our dependency on fossil fuels and other resources; this has not only been catastrophic for the environment, but has meant making diabolical pacts to ensure supply, ignoring human rights violations in the process. We, the world's citizens, have been too willing to compromise truth and integrity for the sake of maintaining the status quo, keeping silent when action was called for, tacitly acquiescing to genocide if this served our political or economic concerns. Yes, Putin represents all of us -- all our own twisted, self-serving, self-gratifying, "don't stand in my way!" tendencies. He is made in our image-- or, at least, made in the image of what is worst about us.
We need to pray for peace -- peace in Ukraine, peace in our hearts, peace everywhere... At the same time, each of us must examine how our own consumerism, silence and apathy have contributed to the present global crisis. What can we do, moving forward, to ensure a new world order based on justice and mercy?
May there be peace!
Jesus told his disciples this parable:
“Can a blind person guide another blind person?
Will they not both fall into a pit?
No student is superior to the teacher;
but when fully trained,
every student will be like his teacher.
Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye,
but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?
How can you say to your brother,
‘Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,’
when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye? You hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye."
When judging others, we would do well to remember both Pope Francis' words and his clarifying statement -- which, in fact, became the title of one of his books --The Name of God is Mercy, 2016. What right do we have to judge others when we ourselves are in need of forgiveness? And if God forgives our transgressions, surely we should forgive those who harm us in any way? This message --foundational to the Lord's Prayer-- is a simple one but so very different from the ancient principle of "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" which meted out punishments proportional to the harm inflicted. Take, for example, Hammurabi's Code, Law #197: If a man break another man's bone, his bone shall be broken; or Law #200: If a man knock out the teeth of his equal, his teeth shall be knocked out. [ A tooth for a tooth ]
When we judge others we tend to judge by appearances only, but may be oblivious to extenuating circumstances. God sees the whole picture but we can see only a fragment of the situation -- what is immediately before our eyes. More often than not, we fail to see a person's motives, formative experiences or psychological state. We might despise someone for being lazy, unaware that s/he is suffering from depression, exhaustion or some invisible physical ailment. Or we might judge another person for poor parenting, unaware that, as a child, this individual had been bounced from one foster home to another and never had a taste of what it meant to grow up in a "normal" family. Or we may be irritated with a friend or family member who is becoming progressively more forgetful, never imagining that s/he is suffering from the beginnings of dementia.
The message from today's gospel is that we should refrain from judging others. This is not to say that we remain "neutral" when it comes to how we respond to unethical or abusive behaviors; rather, instead of judging the person, we judge their negative words and actions. In every situation, we are called to have compassion, mercy and understanding, to extend love and forgiveness, not hatred. This, however, does not mean that we stay in toxic situations and relationships, or that we condone destructive behaviors; it just means that we see with the eyes of Christ, love with his heart and extend help when we can.
"It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."
Antoine de Saint-Exupery