When my grade school son asked me about the appropriateness of a word he’d heard at school, I explained that he shouldn’t use it under any circumstances. He looked at me and said: “But Dad, I’ve heard you and Mom use it!” Oops… I realized that what I had taught my son was: “Do as I say, but not as I do.”
Which is not a good position to be in, as Jesus acknowledged in today’s gospel, when he lamented that the religious leaders of his day didn’t always practice what they preached. But that could be said about any one of us, couldn’t it? We all give moral instruction or correction to others, and we run the risk of being a hypocrite: of talking the talk, without walking the walk.
Sometimes we realize this and choose not to say anything at all, when actually we should be saying something. For instance, many parents avoid speaking about sex or drinking or drugs with their children, because their own histories are, shall we say, less than perfect.
So what are we to do? If we say something, others might simply roll their eyes at us; but if we say nothing, they might turn their eyes elsewhere and find answers that are contrary to those Jesus would give. Thankfully, Jesus suggests a way forward when he taught about humility in today’s gospel. When speaking to others about moral matters, we need to humbly admit that we ourselves are far from perfect, and humbly place ourselves beside those we instruct, instead of exalting ourselves above them. Because at one level, we all stand before Christ as brothers and sisters: as students before our teacher, servants before our master, sinners before our savior.
Should we do this, what others will hear is: “Do as Jesus says…not as I do.”
Readings for today’s Mass: http://www.usccb.org/nab/032211.shtml