Sometimes, when I’m yelling at my children for yelling at each other, I realize how ridiculous I must sound. Surely even my 3-year-old must be wondering why it’s OK for mommy to yell, but it’s not OK for her to yell. Same thing with the whole tone-of-voice debate. Did you have to answer your sister that way? Can’t you speak to your brother in a nice tone of voice? Do you talk to your teacher that way? Well, guess what? I’m pretty sure they didn’t conjure up that annoying tone of voice out of nowhere. They are like sponges, soaking up everything — good or bad — from what they see and hear around them. I hate it when I realize that part of what they’re soaking up are my own bad habits.
I think that’s why today’s Gospel makes me so uncomfortable. Jesus points to the Scribes and Pharisees and says, “For they preach but they do not practice.” Gulp. I don’t need a Scripture scholar to tell me that this line isn’t just about the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ time. When I take the time to reflect on what I try to teach my children about the way they should talk, the way they should act, the way they should strive to live, I have to admit that I may be doing a whole lot of preaching, but practicing? Not so much. Which is too bad because, as they say, actions speak louder than words.
The Little Black Book that I’m using for some of my Lenten reflections says that the way to avoid being a hypocrite is to “acknowledge our own flaws” because it is only when we are willing to face our own sinfulness head on that we are able to help others move beyond the sinfulness that holds them down.
And nowhere is that more obvious than right here at home, as we struggle to get the kids out the door each morning, or settled down for homework each afternoon, or bathed and into bed at a reasonable hour each night. Those are daily opportunities to be Jesus to my children, to practice what I preach.
It would be easy to look at the big picture and pat myself on the back for my general behavior out in the world each day, but can I say the same thing about my behavior among my family each day? Ah, there’s the rub. Sometimes it’s easier to love a stranger in a far-off land than it is to love the people living alongside us. The stranger doesn’t give us that tone of voice or death stare. The stranger doesn’t talk back or mess up the house. The stranger can be kept at arm’s length. Jesus doesn’t invite us to love at a distance. He invites us to love as we want to be loved. Easy to preach, pretty to quote, difficult to live.