Saturday, April 9, 2011

Other People's Sins

"O my soul, thou hast followed Ham, who mocked his father. Thou hast not covered thy neighbor's shame, walking backwards with averted face." Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

St. Andrew compares his attitude towards others to that of Noah's son Ham who saw his father's drunkenness and ridiculed him. Noah's other two sons, however, walked into their father's tent backwards to avoid seeing him in an embarrassing condition. They covered their father's nakedness and departed. Which is worse? To sin or to expose the sin of others? Well, later in the story Noah's sin is not mentioned again, the ones who concealed his sin were blessed, and the one who exposed it was cursed.

Our lesson in Sunday School this week is from Philippians 4. Paul speaks to two women leaders in the local church who are in disagreement about some unnamed religious issue and a "yokefellow" who is a part of the same church. Paul refuses to choose sides, and asks them to find a way to work together to resolve the conflict. I wonder if Paul was remembering his own past acts of determining God's truth and then judging others by his conclusions even to the point of justifying the murder of those in disagreement.  According to The Interpreter's Bible commentary on the book of Philippians, "All the divisions of Christendom have originated in the claim that some human interpretation of the Bible was the actual, dictated word of God."

The lessons in these stories revolve around humility. Ham's "righteous anger" towards his father serves to remind us that we're not actually righteous enough to merit righteous anger. And Paul's words were intended to appeal to the best and highest instincts of his fellow believers, not to scold them. We've all chafed under the comments of the "improvers" -- those who do good to others as a means of revealing their pride in their own goodness. Maybe a guide for our reaction to other people's sins is to ask the question, "Does it bring out the best or the worst side of the nature of others?"

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