We’ve all heard a child shout “Sorry!” at a sibling or an adult say “I’m sorry if anyone was offended by my actions.” The problem isn’t what they’re doing, but how they’re doing it. It’s not really an apology at all.
My point isn’t specifically about apologies. My point is: How we do something really matters.
St. Paul emphasized this when he wrote to the Corinthians. He reminded them that “I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom … I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling.” He wanted them to notice not just what he said but how he said it. He preached the Gospel — the same content as always. But he followed the wisdom of the cross in how he did it.
St. Paul reminded both the Corinthians and the Ephesians to apply this lesson to themselves. When their words and deeds were rooted in jealousy and rivalry (1 Corinthians 3: 3) or when they were characterized by bitterness and fury and anger and shouting (Ephesians 4:31), then no matter what they were doing or saying, how they were doing it was opposed to the Spirit of Christ.
We begin reading from the Gospel of Luke this week, and Luke is full of lessons about how God acts. God constantly turns things upside down — for example, choosing the lowly rather than the great, or showing mercy rather than doling out strict justice. God chose Bethlehem to be the birthplace of the savior — not despite the fact that it wasn’t one of the great tribes of Israel, but precisely because it wasn’t (see Micah 5:1). Among Israel’s children, God chose Judah to be the line of descent of the messiah — not Reuben, who was the oldest, or Joseph, who was the greatest.
Luke repeatedly helps us to see that how Jesus acts toward the rich and the lowly is how God has always acted. In doing so, he challenges us to think about how we act.
Consider how we correct people. Sometimes we do it in a belligerent way. Sometimes we sugarcoat it. Sometimes we hit the target: gentle but clear. How we do it makes a great deal of difference — not only for the person receiving the correction, but for whether we’re growing closer to Christ by our approach.
Or, consider how we talk about popular culture when it opposes Church teaching. Sometimes we approach it with fear. Sometimes we approach it with outrage. Sometimes we approach it with the cruciform confidence of the martyrs, who knew they would suffer for opposing culture but would be victorious in Christ. The martyrs weren’t afraid; they also didn’t need to shout. What about us?
As those who are made in God’s image and likeness, and who strive to follow Christ, let’s reflect the Gospel not only in what we say and do, but in how we say it and do it.