Some of the scribes said in reply, “Teacher, you have answered well.” And they no longer dared to ask him anything. (Luke 20:39-40)
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The scribes and Sadducees thought they had given Jesus a trick question in Luke 20:27-40. He handled it with grace, though. Of course. Don’t we all wish we could do that as easily? An often over-looked but funny part of this scripture is near the end: “Teacher, you have answered well.” I mean, really guys? Who’s the teacher? The scribes gave their approval as if Jesus were the student. Clearly, they didn’t recognize Jesus’ superior wisdom, and certainly not his divinity. We see the same thing happening all around us today. It’s called the “idolatry of self”.
The idolatry of self reveals itself most often in moral relativism. People fail to recognize Jesus’ superior wisdom when deciding for themselves what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s a sin and what’s not a sin (if they even think of the word “sin” at all). What God says is evil is now considered good, and what God says is good is now considered evil and anyone who takes God’s side publicly is believed to be evil (we see this happening in the controversies about abortion and homosexual marriages).
But it’s not just the non-Christians who are caught up in the idolatry of self. We all need to examine our consciences about it. If we pray for God’s help and then tell him how he should help, getting angry or disappointed if he doesn’t do it our way, we’ve succumbed to the idolatry of self. If we disregard scripture-based Church teachings, because they are inconvenient (such as living in a marriage-type of relationship without the Sacrament of Marriage), we’ve succumbed to the idolatry of self.
The reason why we succumb is because we have failed to recognize Jesus’ superior wisdom on the topic. But this is easily remedied!
Someone once asked me: “I had my first marriage annulled, but my new wife never had her first marriage annulled. Therefore, we could not get married in the Church, but I was disappointed when I asked my pastor to bless the rings we were going to use for our wedding and he told me that he couldn’t bless them. Can you please explain to me why he was not able to do that?”
This is a good question! The man asking about it was humbly seeking greater understanding. He was standing on the bridge between the idolatry of self and the holiness of doing things God’s way even though it felt inconvenient.
Over the years, I’ve seen many similar situations in which loving couples lacked understanding of the path to holiness and the happier, deeper marriage that Jesus offers. Therefore, I’d like to share with you the answer I gave to this man’s question:
His pastor could not bless something that might represent sin. Although the couple did not feel sinful getting married without the sacrament, it is always a sin whenever we reject any sacrament, because we are rejecting what Jesus himself wants to give us. In marriage, he wants to give supernatural graces for the relationship. He knows about the ups and downs that even the best marriages have. He knows how hard it will be to keep our marriages going. So he wants us to want him to be fully present in our lives and relationships — and that’s what sacraments activate.
The reason why the priest could not bless the wedding rings is because he cannot know for sure that the bride’s first marriage was invalid. The new marriage might be adultery. Out of love and concern for the couple, he does not want to contribute to any sin; to play it safe, he must err on the side of caution.
And the priest, to choose the path of holiness, must not commit the idolatry of self by deciding on his own whether or not the bride’s first marriage was valid. We need more priests like him who are serious about taking the path of holiness!
The idolatry of self happens when we find ourselves in a situation that we don’t like and we choose to take the easy way out. For example, by focusing on our problems instead of God’s promises, it seems necessary to choose unheavenly and unChrist-like methods of coping.
Hebrews 12:1-4 describes our journey to heaven as a race. We’re in a life-long marathon, running a race against our own sinful tendencies. What slows us down is the dead weight of the sins that we’ve not yet identified or we’ve not yet regretted or we’ve not yet surrendered to the mercy of God.
Unless we deliberately and consciously struggle against sin and force ourselves to receive the blessings of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and to pay attention during the Penitential Rite at the beginning of Mass, we get overtaken by temptations and doubts, and we stumble and hit the pavement with our back-sides.
To achieve a real victory, we must implement Christ’s way of love, even if this means sacrificing our own preferences. Victory is never found on the easy side of the cross; it’s found on the far side, the resurrection side that comes only after laying down our lives for the ways of Christ.
There is no glorious solution to hardships without dying to ourselves and nailing our personal desires to the cross of Christ. As followers of Christ, we must accept our hardships as the gifts that they truly are.
I’m sure it was disappointing to the couple whose priest would not bless their wedding rings. But God was inviting them to trade up to more perfect love for each other and more humility in their relationship with him. He was inviting them to not stop at the rejection by the priest but to journey forward to a greater faith, increased holiness, and closer union with Christ.
© 2018 by Terry A. Modica
Next: For more on why an annulment is so important, please see Why Must I Get an Annulment to Remarry?
Or for more about winning the race against sin, visit Winning the Race Against Sin.
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