While shopping at our local grocery store, I saw a mother trying to do the same thing—shop—while also trying to foil her little boy’s continued attempts to knock displays over. The more breakable the better. Once he even tried to snatch an item out of my cart and throw it on the floor. She apologized profusely and explained that her little boy was autistic. My heart went out to her, knowing how challenging parenting ANY human child can be.
So imagine how God our Father feels when his children misbehave. While preparing this blog about Sunday’s readings, this mother kept coming to mind. All three readings deal with human misbehavior and how our Father handles it.
In the first reading (Mal 3:19-20a), he resorts to the tried and true: threats.
… the day is coming, blazing like an oven, when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble …
But good parents also warn before they threaten. They may say, I’ll remember that, young man or lady—you’re in my book!
And indeed, earlier in the same book from which this reading comes, Malachi tells us God is also keeping track—of those children who model good behavior.
A record book was written before him of those who fear the LORD and esteem his name. They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, my own special possession, on the day when I take action. And I will have compassion on them, as a man has compassion on his son who serves him.
So maybe this mother, rather than threatening her boy, should have promised a reward? Or maybe she should have tried eliciting empathy from her boy, as many parents do, so their children will be moved to modeling their good behavior. That’s what St. Paul tries in Sunday’s second reading to the Thessalonians (2 Thes 3:7-12):
… in toil and drudgery, night and day we worked, so as not to burden any of you. Not that we do not have the right. Rather, we wanted to present ourselves as a model for you, so that you might imitate us.
Yes, we parents often reserve the right to nag and shame our children into doing the right things. But when those same children are persecuted by others, we are the first to come to their defense—especially if, as adults, they get into trouble defending the family honor as passionately as they insisted on getting into trouble doing the wrong things as dumb kids. Sunday’s gospel reading from Luke (Lk 21:5-19) shows our Father helping us mount a defense as passionately as Perry Mason would for his own troublesome child.
Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute. You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”
The mom I saw in the store that day persevered in patience and understanding of her child’s compromised behavioral system as well as she humanly could. She told me she frequently gets angry stares and even nasty comments from fellow humans who judge her for not being able to control her child’s impulses. Judging others unjustly is a nasty human impulse. Let’s pray that our Father finds in our favor when we make our case for the life we lived by His book.
We all know the patience draining experiences of dealing with children and coworkers, even strangers we come across while driving or at a store. St Paul is right to challenge us to set the example, even under stress. That’s part of what makes you Catholic.
Paul challenged us to set the example of imitating Christ’s disciples imitating Christ. Unfortunately, more often than not, we imitate Christ’s disciples draining Christ’s patience. I wonder how often Jesus did the old eye-roll thing in response. They probably thought he was looking up to his Father in prayer. Maybe he was. “GIVE ME STRENGTH!”
This is a good reminder to never judge someone else without walking in their shoes. Without knowing the unique circumstance of the child, I would have probably smugly thought of the woman as an incompetent mother, when in fact, I would be making incompetent and unfair judgements of my fellow man.
Judge not lest the be judged!