As we continue our Lenten journey to the cross with Jesus, I am struck by the continuing tension between morality and being Christlike.
Now wait, I know you are going to insist that being moral and being Christlike are one in the same.
And I will grant that being moral is part of being Christlike, but being Christlike is more than being moral.
This weekend my family and I watched the movie "Chocolat". In the movie, the townspeople motivated by the church (or at least some significant members of the church) begin a campaign to "Boycott Immorality". Somehow they believe if they can just rid themselves of immorality and all those who intice them toward immorality, they will achieve "tranquility".
The first problem with "boycotting immorality" is that we have to boycott ourselves. All of us are sinful, which is worse than being immoral. Sin lives deep within our hearts, and it resists our efforts to remove it. Ultimately, only Christ can remove our sin and change our hearts.
One example of this problem from the movie is the case of Serge, the local bartender who likes to beat his wife. Once his immorality is discovered, the mayor takes him to confession, enrolls him into catechism class, and cleans him up. After a while he goes to his wife to win her back, but she refuses. Serge claims, "God has changed me", but she remains skeptical.
Once Serge realizes that his efforts at reform have failed to bring reconciliation with his wife (or at least get her to come back home) he defaults to his old self, gets drunk, and becomes abusive. He had not changed his sinful self, he had simply changed his moral behavior for a time.
The second problem comes when we cannot separate our hatred of immoral behavior from the people who are acting immorally. We tend to identify the people as the enemy, and seek ways to eliminate the enemy hoping to rid ourselves of the behavior.
Yet people are people, they are not the real enemy. The real enemy is "not flesh and blood" (see Ephesians 6:12). The real enemy is sin and the spiritual forces of evil that use sin as their personal weapon. By focusing on the people, we miss the real enemy and will still lose the war.
Being Christlike goes beyond being moral because being like Christ means we continue to love our enemy and pray for those who persecute us. In our efforts to pursue morality we must not lose the love for people that Christ maintained. In the end, the call to love God and love neighbor trumps our efforts to be moral.
These are just some of my thoughts for this lenten journey. I invite you to share some of your own, as we journey together along the Way ....