The Gospel for this coming Sunday begins, “And he, being willing to justify himself, asked him ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (from Luke 10:25-37).
One of the most obvious and most difficult things the break free from is a “me and everyone else” approach to judgment. We almost never question our own motives and the part we play in difficulties / controversies. Someone troubles us and we may look at it from only our perspective and say “I have done nothing wrong.” “I am completely innocent.” But Dorotheos of Gaza says that if a man really examines himself, in the fear of God, he will usually find that he has given cause for offense, either by deed, word or bearing.
It is pretty rare that we could say, “I am an innocent victim.” We have to be careful to not throw the blame on everyone else. We don’t keep the commandments, we are negligent and yet we demand, in return, that our neighbor be perfect. MAKE NOTE: I am not saying that victims of crimes, domestic abuse, etc. are at fault. What we are saying is that the lawyer in today’s Gospel asked a question of Jesus in order to justify himself we don’t want to be walking around justifying ourselves. We want to be practicing what the church encourages, “Self-accusation.”
Abba Poemen, one of the great desert fathers said, “If a man accuses himself, he is protected on all sides.” (Abba Poemen 95 from The Sayings of the Desert Fathers)
We have to impress on our minds to not put the blame on someone else. We have to look at ourselves. Saint Paul left a great example when he refers to himself as “the chief of sinners.” Even our tradition of the Jesus Prayer ends with a punch line; “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
We excuse ourselves and all the while grind others down. We may not say it but we to often think it and act like we believe it, “Everyone else is malicious. We are honorable and good. Everyone else distorts but, I tell the truth.”
We sometimes overreact and deepen division by going after our neighbor who has wronged us instead of blaming ourselves and casting our sinfulness to the feet of the Lord. One note of warning: we don’t want to completely flip to other side and enter into some kind of super-spiritual self-hating. Elder Sophrony of Essex said that we don’t want to fall prey to the illusion of deep self-analysis and introspection. He said, “You know, we pick and poke away, hunting for every little mistake or thought, and we make ourselves crazy, all for nothing. It becomes an obsession, and really makes a wall between us and God, leaving no room for grace to act. Yes, we must know our sins, and that we are sinful and deluded beings, but we must never lose sight of the fact that we come to God in prayer, not to be obsessed with our sins, but to find His mercy. Otherwise the devil takes everything away from us… joy, hope, peace, love… and leaves us nothing but this obsession with our mistakes. That is not repentance. That is neurosis…”
Self-Accusation done right recognizes that we not guilt free and brings us back to Christ who can relieve us of the burden. Here’s the plan:
- Cut off dark thoughts as soon as they appear by saying the Jesus Prayer
- Read the Gospel everyday
- Prepare for confession without brooding, victimization and blaming
- Confess your sins between now and Nativity