In today’s Gospel from Matthew, Jesus realized that: “The Pharisees went out and took counsel against Jesus to put him to death” (Mt 12:14). Jesus did not then start to plan how he would defend himself against their plot, he did not arm his supporters, nor is there any indication that Jesus let the fact that he was a marked man bother him. What did Jesus do with this bit of news?
“He withdrew from that place” (Mt. 12:15) and cured those who followed him. Was Jesus being a coward by withdrawing? No. Jesus was refusing to engage or give any of his time or energy to their negativity. He focused on what he was about and that was continuing the mission that God had sent him to achieve, which was to help bring about the salvation of humanity and the world and to call those who would work with him to continue his mission.
Many of us will hopefully not receive death threats, but many of us have and will witness and/or receive critical, negative, belittling, or dehumanizing looks, words, and outright actions to cause physical, mental, emotional or spiritual harm, just in the course of our daily interactions. For those of us who choose to practice publicly the teachings of Jesus, we may receive even more! Unfortunately, for many people of color, they cannot hide their physical appearance.
Our common response to the many forms of perceived or actual animosity directed toward us is to react. Our reactions generally are based on learned defense mechanisms we have adopted through our lives. Often when we react, we slip into survival mode, experience increased anxiety, defensiveness, anger as well as a myriad of other emotions. Ideally, as we mature in our faith, our response is to draw into the present moment, breath, and call upon God’s guidance to direct us such that we can act more mindfully and be advocates of God’s grace.
Many times the best way to diffuse negativity is to do as Jesus did in today’s Gospel, resist to engage in it altogether, and continue to be about enacting God’s will in our life. Recalling a time that we have taken offense and reacted in kind toward someone who pushed our buttons and/or got under our skin can be helpful. After remembering this exchange, we can ponder different responses and then choosing one, re-imagine how we could have reacted differently. Going forward, we can ask the Holy Spirit to guide and help us to be more patient and understanding.
Life is short in the best of circumstances, let us not take a day or moment for granted, nor give away our precious time by engaging in unneeded drama or negativity. There are times that we do need to stand up and speak out, but that is a reflection for another time. Sometimes, we need to walk away and be still. During some quiet time today, I invite you to meditate on these words attributed to St. Teresa of Avila (1514-1582):
“Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.”
Photo: 2010 hike, taking a walk is often a good way to decompress and leave negativity behind! Hoping to get out for a walk again soon! Photo credit – Jack McKee