Understanding & Overcoming Cynicism
When someone recovers from a serious illness, disease or debilitation, what is our usual reaction? Usually, it?s wow that?s great! It?s a miracle! Thank God! Thank the doctor! Joy and thankfulness usually go along with healing. Can we imagine if we saw someone, who was paralyzed for thirty-eight years, jay-walking across the street and our first words to them were: ?Hey you, you?re not supposed to be jay-walking across the street.? The healed person might respond, ?Yeah, but look, I?m walking.? Then we might shoot back, ?Yes, but who told you to jay-walk across the street.? The person, ?I don?t know, but look, I?m walking.?
I?m sure we can see the parallel with today?s Gospel reading from the Fourth Sunday of Pascha in which Jesus heals the Paralytic. The response of the Jews towards this man is not one of surprise, joy and thankfulness. Rather, their response is cynicism and legalism, typical. We?ll see the same thing to a greater degree in two weeks as the Jewish leaders encounter the recently healed blindman. Why is it that these Jews or some people in our own time or even us at times cannot rejoice in the good and miraculous events going on around us?
One, like the Jews of this story, we concentrate and focus too much on one thing, usually negative. They only saw a man carrying a pallet or a portable bed on the Sabbath. They did not see a man, paralyzed for 38 years, suddenly walking. We could be a parent who, when our child scores 98/100 on a test, we ask him/her, ?Why did you get those two wrong? You should have studied harder.? Or our spouse just made us a wonderful meal and the only thing we say is, ?This meat is overdone.? Get the picture?
Two, maybe we are not in the habit of seeing the good in life. Over the years, I realized that part of our fallen, sinful human nature, is to see life as a cup half-empty. The only way to overcome that is to make a conscious and determined effort to see everything in life as a cup half-full. This happens by giving thanks to God for anything good that happens, not only to me but to other people. Doing this repeatedly, like any other good habit or discipline, begins to change our psyche/soul, so that we somewhat more naturally see the good, the holy, we see God acting in our life and the lives of other people.
Three, if we cannot snap out of a negative/cynical attitude, we must take a deeper look into ourselves. We must begin to understand the driving forces in our life. Jesus Christ, the Physician of soul and body can help us do that. Look at the passage we just read during the Orthros of Tuesday in Holy Week from Matthew 23:13-39, where the Lord infamously dresses-down the Scribes and Pharisees as hypocrites. Jesus directly confronts their misplaced priorities and values. Do we value gold and money more than the sacred temple and altar, even more than God Himself who makes the temple and altar holy? One example of this is paying lip service to the worship and education going on in our parish, while overly focusing on the finances that serve and support them.
In addition, Jesus tells us that our material giving, our tithing to the church is just as important as justice, mercy and faith. This implies an important principle: If we?re not giving generously of our material wealth to the church, we are more likely to be cheap and stingy with justice, mercy towards others and faith in God. Remember, Jesus said, ?Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also? (reference???).
The most important lesson Jesus teaches about overcoming negativism, cynicism and hypocrisy is repentance. He calls the Jewish leaders ?blind guides, blind fools, blind men? because outwardly they may appear righteous but inwardly they are full of hypocrisy, rapacity and extortion. Jesus tells them and us to cleanse the inside of the cup of our soul so that the outside may be clean also. In other words, maybe it?s the unrepented sin within our hearts that drives us to only see what?s wrong in life. Maybe it?s that we have not forgiven someone for some trespass against us and our anger, bitterness and resentment towards them spills over into other areas of our life.
As I conclude, one may think to themselves, I?m fine when I?m at work or at home or at school, but when I come to church, it?s the hypocrisy of many people there that bothers me and that?s why I get so upset and angry and critical. This demonstrates even more the spiritual nature of the problem. When we come to church, we are coming into the house of God, near His heavenly altar that is surrounded by the angelic powers. We cannot come into His presence without being affected. If there is anything within us that is not consonant or in line with the Divine Will and Presence, it is going to be revealed, drawn-out and uncovered. So, just like the Scribes and Pharisees were exposed by Jesus 2,000 years ago, we are exposed in a similar manner whenever we come to church. How do we react to this exposure? With continual negativism and cynicism or do we respond in repentance, giving thanks to God for the opportunity to change our life and our attitude? In order to live life as God wills, we must have Him and everything He teaches and commands as our highest priority and value. We must give thanks to Him everyday for everything, even the little stuff. Then, we will be able to see our cup in life as not just half-full, but full of God?s presence and blessings?and that?s all we need to be joyful. Amen.