“For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” Matthew 11:18-19
My little dog is afraid of storm sewers. We go out for a walk every morning, and when we get near a storm sewer, he sits down in the street and looks up at me, as if to say, ‘How are we getting around this one?’. If I’m lucky, he’ll let me walk him out to the middle of the street (if no cars are coming) to pass by the storm sewer and then return to the side of the road. Sometimes, there is only a sewer on one side of the street. But often there are sewers across from each other. When we come to them, the dog simply will not go any further; I have to pick him up and carry him past the storm sewers before he’ll proceed. Like Odysseus sailing past Scylla and Charybdis on his way home from the Trojan War, dangerous sea monsters who lured sailors from the left and the right, my puppy and I navigate the way between dangers to the left and the right!
In the passage from Matthew, Jesus reminds us that it is very easy to fall into the same trap. We may condemn something only to sail so far in the other direction that we are ensnared in an equally dangerous position. Whether it is condemning Jesus or John, criticizing a political figure, starting a diet or anything else, there is always the possibility that by swinging too far one way or the other, we may end up in danger. Years ago I watched a friend who had struggled with her weight for years go on a diet. She lost weight, and then she lost more, until she began to look like a walking cadaver. Overeating wasn’t good for her, but neither was anorexia.
Today we inaugurated a new president. Some love him, some claim to hate him. But whatever your opinion, let’s be careful not to swing so far to extremes that we end up losing our humanity. All of us have good and bad. Let’s applaud the good and challenge the bad. We will probably disagree on what is good or bad, but we need to avoid the extremes between which we sail. We should never idolize a political figure as if they could save us – only Jesus can do that. And we should never demonize a person, forgetting that Christ died for them and they, too, bear the image of God. Let’s sail carefully between idolatry and demonization and find our way safely through the coming years.
Prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, who alone has the power to save us, and whose love is what gives value to our lives, help me this day to see this world as you do. Let me stand for justice, but not by becoming unjust myself. Let me call for love, but not with hate towards anothern my heart. May I walk between righteousness and mercy in ways that reflect your grace. When I am tempted to condemn, remind me of my own sin and show me the path that veers neither to the right nor the left, but follows your way of salvation. This I pray through Christ, my Lord. Amen.