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BEFORE THE CROSS | Learning by counter-example

We learn a great deal from the saints of salvation history. They teach by example: "Be like this!" We learn a great deal from the sins of salvation history, as well. These teach by counter-example: "Don't be like this!"

The readings this week are full of teachings by counter-example.

Cain and Abel • Cain felt anger and resentment toward Abel. We all feel anger and resentment sometimes. But Cain didn't master his feelings; he allowed his feelings to master him and killed Abel. The Bible is teaching us by counter-example: If you don't master your feelings, this might be your story. Don't be like this.

Noah and the flood • The wickedness of humankind was so great that it brought death and destruction not only to people, but to plants and animals as well. Noah and his household were the exception. The Bible is teaching by counter-example: If you just go with the flow and fit in with the surrounding culture, you might bring death and destruction on everyone and everything. Don't be like these people. Don't be afraid to swim against the tide of culture — like Noah. It might just save your household. Be like that.

The Tower of Babel • People discovered a new technology, and they didn't know where to stop in their use of it. They thought it would bring their ultimate fulfillment, leading them literally into the heavens. God's message then is equally applicable now: Unlimited use of new technology isn't the way to Heaven. Don't be like these people.

The Gospel accounts also teach by counter-example. The Pharisees ask Jesus for a sign, though they aren't open to any sign that He might give them. Don't be like them. The disciples totally miss the point of Jesus' message. Don't be like them.

Most interestingly, we hear the account of Peter's confession that Jesus is the Messiah. This contains a double teaching by counter-example.

First, Jesus asks: "Who do people say that I am?" The disciples repeat what people are saying. All of the answers — John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets — are wrong. But thinking about and rejecting the wrong answers helps Peter figure out the right answer: "You are the Christ." Peter learned something valuable from the counter-examples.

Then Jesus says: "You're right. And that means I'm going to be rejected, and suffer, and die, and be raised." Scandalized by the cross, Peter begins to rebuke Jesus. Wrong response. Now it's Peter's turn to provide the counter-example. The Gospel message is clear: Don't be like this. In the face of the cross, we have to do better than Peter.

Movies are full of heroes and villains, and we learn from both. The same is true of the Bible. When we read the Bible this way, it's easy to read the daily news this way: it's full of counter-examples.

There's a series of signs around town. They describe a behavior that doesn't express virtuous character and doesn't build virtuous character. Then they end with the tag line: "Don't be that guy." In light of the readings this week, that's a very biblical way to teach.

As we read the Bible and the daily news, let's ask the Lord to open our hearts and minds to all that we might learn by counter-example. 

RELATED ARTICLE(S):FRENTE A LA CRUZ | Aprendiendo de ejemplos negativos

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