Print Version    Email to Friend
First do no harm

 

Twenty-fifth Sunday of the Year

 

Readings: Isaiah 55:6-9; Philippians 1:20c-24, 27a; Matthew 20:1-16a

In his letters, St. Paul can suddenly vary. In the midst of an ordinary passage about Christian living, we often find a wonderful hymn of praise. Or, from a reflection on one topic, he will veer onto another topic without warning us what is coming.

He must have been a rapid thinker, jumping from topic to topic, and the scribe who wrote down his letters would have to have been highly alert. That is the way of St. Paul.

When writing to the Christians at Philippi, St. Paul suddenly gives us a really useful and brief piece of basic advice, “Avoid anything in your everyday lives that would be unworthy of the gospel of Christ.”

This is an excellent piece of basic-level advice. Here, St. Paul is not calling the Christians to the heights of the Christian message, but simply providing a foundation. And it would be worth committing this simple foundation to memory. Perhaps we can recite it each morning.

One old version of the oath for medical practitioners had a simple basis, “First, do no harm.” This is a healthy beginning. And from this beginning, the medicos could then go on to do all kinds of good things for people in need of healing. But when approaching a situation, they were conscious of operating from the basic level of, “First, do no harm.”

St. Paul has a similar, basic piece of advice. “First, avoid anything in your everyday lives that would be unworthy of the gospel of Christ.” And starting from there, we can go on to do all kinds of good things for people around us, and for ourselves.

While the oath for medicos simply refers to avoiding medical harm, the advice given to us by
St. Paul contains a reference point, an underlying principle. That reference point is the gospel of Christ.

When we are making our way in our everyday lives, the gospel gives us a genuine orientation, a reference point. From the beginning, we know to avoid everything that is unworthy. Then we are able to go on and do things which are really worthy of the gospel.

In fact, St. Paul’s advice is more useful than, “First, do no harm.” This is because the maxim, “Avoid anything in your everyday lives that would be unworthy of the gospel of Christ,” gives us a workable criterion when we need to make a rapid judgement in our everyday lives.

When we have time to reflect, we hear the gospels, we reflect on the gospels, we listen to homilies about the gospels and, we even read the Sunday Examiner to learn more about the gospels.

Then, in our everyday lives, when we don’t have time to reflect, our consciences have already been formed by the gospels that are part of our everyday lives.

This advice is in a single sentence, which St. Paul has given us suddenly, in the middle of another topic. But it is a fine piece of wisdom for the 21st century.

RO’B