Monday, February 23, 2015

A lent with character

St. Luke 5:12-16
12 Once, when he was in one of the cities, there was a man covered with leprosy.[a] When he saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” 13 Then Jesus[b] stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do choose. Be made clean.” Immediately the leprosy[c] left him. 14 And he ordered him to tell no one. “Go,” he said, “and show yourself to the priest, and, as Moses commanded, make an offering for your cleansing, for a testimony to them.” 15 But now more than ever the word about Jesus[d] spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. 16 But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray.

There is a saying that was very popular for speech competitions in my childhood. It says “If wealth is lost nothing is lost, if health is lost something is lost but if character is lost, everything is lost.” It throws light upon one of the very important aspects of our existence. Even as we concentrate on body and soul we lose touch with the character of our very being.

Character initiates and eggs us on to do something we believe in and something which is just and right. This may not be what everyone else does but what we strongly feel should be done. It is not an outward initiation but an inside, intrinsic feeling of what our reaction should be in a particular situation. “Character is a pattern of behavior, thoughts and feelings based on universal principles, moral strength, and integrity – plus the guts to live by those principles every day. Character is evidenced by your life’s virtues and the “line you never cross.” Character is the most valuable thing you have, and nobody can ever take it away.” Jesus had character. This was build up by his relationship with God, his family and his society. But it was also a character which was against certain notions and taboos in society. The man with leprosy did not look Jesus in the face but he begs him to make him clean if he chooses. A confused character would have lead Jesus to look away from the man because that was what the majority in society did at the time. But Jesus looks at him, says yes, stretches out his hand and touches him. What Jesus did needed lots of courage because of the stigma of disease associated with leprosy or a skin disease. But Jesus’ character makes him think different and initiates an act of courage. His character is strong and is his biggest asset which is more than wealth and health.

Peter Drucker , a management expert has an interesting opinion on character. He says “A man (or woman) might know too little, perform poorly, lack judgment and ability, and yet not do too much damage as a manager. But if that person lacks character and integrity – no matter how knowledgeable, how brilliant, how successful – he destroys. He destroys people, the most valuable resources of the enterprise. He destroys spirit. And he destroys performance.” Jesus lead from the front and he did so primarily because he had character and integrity. When everyone else would have turned away from the person with leprosy he stretches out his hand. Even as people would have been shocked at what he was doing, he was courageous enough to do what he did.

During lent, many people try to work on a lot of things but conveniently ignore character as then they don’t have to change anything they do. Lent is a time which gives us an opportunity to fine tune and refurbish our character. If we have a stigma for someone based on their beliefs, disease, colour, and way of life, it means that we have to work on our character and not theirs. Do we make quick judgments on people based on what others say? If so, lent becomes a time to work on our character and how we have been formed so that we become courageous like Jesus to stretch out our hand instead of keeping it under wraps.

Aristotle offers practice of virtue as a way of developing our character. Good work with good intentions are a way to practice reshaping our character. Jesus practiced this all through his ministry. He did what his character reflected. But he still had to do it to reflect his character to others. But have we learnt from that? Our inability to make our character above our other qualifications has brought about a life that is not beneficial for us and others. This lent is a good opportunity for us to practice goodness and practice courage which should reflect the character of Jesus which we see in his courage to stretch out his hand, touch and heal the person with leprosy. Romans 5:3-5 says "And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us." A lent with character should not disappoint us but give us hope.

So, as part of lent, let us practise to reach out to people however they look like and whatever they believe in. Picture the scene of Jesus touching the person with leprosy and then see if we can replicate that! Get into the character of Jesus who touched the man when everyone else refused to. Reflect the character of Jesus by practising lent. Amen.

(Excerpts from a sermon preached in St. Ignatius JSO Church, K.R. Puram, Bangalore on February 22, 2015.)

Picture courtesy

No comments: