Being Open to the Message and the Messenger

Most of us are familiar with the saying, “Don’t shoot the messenger.” When we receive bad news, we feel the urge to blame the person who told us, even if he had nothing to do with the problem. If the message is rude, we are rude to the messenger. If the message is threatening, we threaten the messenger.
Today, Jesus asks us to consider the opposite scenario: What do we do when the message itself is very good news, but it comes from a bad messenger? The entire message of salvation is good news. Unfortunately, that good news sometimes comes to our ears from bad mouths. In the Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples and the crowds, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice.”

This challenge is not foreign to us. We all have people to whom we answer, be they parents, bosses, teachers, peers, and even religious leaders. Sadly, not all of them have been very kind. For this reason, do we ignore them? Do we consider an uncharitable critic or a hypocritical messenger to be our excuse for not seeing areas for growth in ourselves? Even the most wretched person can still say truthful things. We cannot risk missing important truths that help us grow in the life of Christ on the basis of a poor messenger.

Perhaps we ignore bad messengers because they are just that. If so, then Jesus’ teaching is quite clear. We have an obligation to listen regardless of the messenger’s character. However, if we dig a bit deeper, we may see that there are other issues preventing us from heeding the lessons of others.

Sometimes, I do not want to listen because of my pride. I know what is best for me, and no one should tell me how to live my life. This reasoning helps me pass through life unaccountable to my brothers and sisters. Then I remember a basic truth: Pride is the oldest sin on record. If I fail to see pride in myself or choose to knowingly embrace it, then I cannot honestly call myself a disciple of Christ.

Maybe I am simply afraid of facing my own faults. Facing them is painful and perhaps more trouble than I think it is worth. So, I choose to deflect what I hear. For example, maybe I do not like my pastor’s character and think he has no business telling me how I should grow. After all, I can point out several of his imperfections. If I call him to account for his shortcomings, especially publicly, then he surely will back away for challenging me.

The greatest challenge we face as members of the Christian community is being open to the guidance and even correction of others. When facing Church teachings, correction from our brothers and sisters, or any form of conflict, we should meet the messenger with humility and charity, not pride and criticism. If we do anything less, we risk losing the message.

Ultimately, we need to remember that all good messages come from one messenger: God. He guides us with an unfailing love and promises to protect us from all that can harm us. Yet, He expects us to be open to that love. As we continue the discipline of Lent, let us open our hearts to receive the guidance of the Holy Spirit and pray for the humility to look past the flaws of those whom God has called to bring us the Good News.