Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
Perhaps turn out a sermon.

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Monday, December 8, 2014

Noblesse Oblige

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.  -- Romans 15:1

First of all, in context, we are talking about strength and weakness in the matter of faith.  The “weak”, in this sense, are those who are, for example, perhaps overly concerned about legalistically adhering to dietary rules.  Those of us who have no problem with properly cooked bacon should be sensitive to those who fear that God might be offended if they ate ham or catfish.  The focus can be on anything, from drinking wine and smoking tobacco to literature and films. 

A few years back, I was exiting a building where I had an encounter with some people who were as frustratingly dense as the proverbial jackass.  As I was expressing my opinion via the use of the shorthand word “dumbasses”, a person I knew was entering the building.  I paused in my poetic exhalations to greet this person, who proceeded to gently reprimand me for saying something vulgar in public.  It was appropriate.  I should have made sure that I was only heard by those who would not take offense. 

What we do and say, how we live, what we tolerate and what we can ignore affects those around us.  Sometimes they do need to grow up and get real.  I have noticed this, though, that growing up takes time.  I would not expect my four-year-old grandson to drive a car from his house to mine for a visit.  I have to, as the currently more accomplished person, take his limitations, his weaknesses, and his skillset into account in our relationship.  I would be pretty stupid to think that he didn’t want to see me because he never drives over.

We need to take a similar attitude with those “weaker” in the faith than we are.  They aren’t trying to manipulate, condemn and find fault with us for being less strict in our approach to life.  The truth is that it doesn’t hurt any of us to be careful, and we should all be extremely of wary of making excuses for immoral behavior on the basis of the “strength” of our faith. 

It’s really another version of the virtue of meekness.  If our faith is genuinely strong, there ought to be a lot that we don’t mind giving up on or giving in to for the sake of those around us. 

And, if our faith is not so strong, practicing meekness, like any exercise, will make us stronger. 


julie said...

Yes, well said. I often try to think of the way I moderate my behavior around others as not "giving scandal." Though occasionally, one must (generally only when someone else is causing offense first).

Once when I was younger, my sister's in-laws were visiting their baby granddaughter at my mother's house. My grandmother was there, too; she always tried to pass for white, but nobody was fooled. Anyway, the in-law grandma was playing "Eeny Meenie Miney Mo, catch a nigger by the toe..." with the baby, in the living room with my maternal family, pictures of multi-colored ancestors hanging on the walls.

Aside from the rhyme, you could have heard a pin drop.

After about the third go-round, I gently but firmly informed her that we had always been taught that the word was tiger. She knocked it off. A part of me wishes I had the spine to really go off on the old bag, but what purpose would that have served? Just scared the baby and driven a deeper wedge between my sister and her in-laws, as though they needed my help for that. Plus grandma would have hated the loss of dignity even more than she hated what that woman was doing. And possibly, it's what the woman wanted - to cause a scene, and make us out to be the offenders.

Anyway. Most of the time, it's better to keep one's conduct suitable to the occasion and the people present.

mushroom said...

Your poor sister. That sounds like a really fun mother-in-law. I heard the rhyme that way from my grandmother when I was a kid, but even in our all-cracker elementary school back in the '60s, no one ever said anything except "tiger".

I'm such a dunce I have to practice in private so I won't do something stupid in public.

julie said...

Until that moment, it literally never occurred to me that there was any other way to say that rhyme. Then I realized that, of course, that's probably the original version.

I have my moments; they seem to be fewer and fewer as I get older, thank goodness, but in a way that almost makes it more painful when it happens...

John Lien said...

(typo in the previous comment, hence deletion)

and we should all be extremely wary of making excuses for immoral behavior on the basis of the “strength” of our faith.


If you love the "weak" person then I suppose it won't kill you to behave. That's a hard one for me since I get a bit of perverse joy in tweaking someone. But as Paul sez "...and not to please ourselves".

-I think I'm getting better though. A life of semi-isolation helps.

Actually, I'm not getting better according to Fr. Stephen's latest post. I think I understand his message but it has put me in a bit of a funk.

mushroom said...

That is a good one. Father Stephen nails it.

Like in one sense, you can't get better because you are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God. Positionally, as they say, the Father looks at you and all He sees is Christ. He does not see that smirk when you have successfully tweeked someone's nose.

Then the problem is that we have the gap between what we are and how we are acting. We're not fully integrated, not whole, and not at peace. We feel guilt for not being ourselves.

The purpose of confession is not to rat on ourselves. God didn't know? It's to repent, meaning that we want to change our mind about how we've been handling things. If God has told us the truth about the whole deal, we can handle our daily lives differently.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Being meek can be difficult to say the least. Plus, some people (ie bullies) tend to take it to mean you are weak.

I can handle insults okay, but I can't be quiet when I see others bullied.
And I don't tolerate physical bullying at all, but I don't think God holds it agin us to protect the weak. Not the same as weakness IMO.

But yeah, we should be as meek as possible with those who may be weaker in faith than we are.
Excellent post, Mushroom!

Skully said...

Well...some people are dumbasses. Then you got yer smart asses. Who may also be dumbasses but they're smart enough to get under yer skin.

It's tougher to deal with the smart dumbasses.

mushroom said...

And then there are the dumb smartasses -- Obama is their poster boy.