All things to all men

These are words of St. Paul. The complete quote goes this way: “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many people possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.

“To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” (1 Cor 9,19- 23)

Tremendous words, indeed! They can scare us, considering what would be involved to put these words into action. But we have to take these words to heart. They vividly describe what should be our attitude towards everyone if we are to be consistent with our Christian identity.

Yes, we have to be all things to all men, including those who are very different from us, those whose views, positions, lifestyles, ideologies, beliefs, etc. are incompatible with ours. This is what is to be truly Christian. If we fail in this test, we cannot really consider ourselves as authentically Christian.

Christ said it very clearly to us already. It might be good to remit here again the relevant words of Christ: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

“If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that…

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Lk 6,27- 36)

There you are! Christ tells us how we should deal with those who are different or are in conflict with us. Christ did not only tell us this principle, but lived it out himself. He allowed himself to be crucified even if it was clear he was blameless. To top it all, he offered forgiveness to those who crucified him and even found excuses for them. “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they are doing.” (Lk 23,34)

It’s really time to make drastic changes in our attitudes and ways of dealing with everyone, especially those who are different from us or even opposed to us. To be sure, we need nothing less than God’s grace for this, than our vital identification with Christ himself to such an extent that we truly become “another Christ.”

But everyday, we have to see to it that we are developing the appropriate attitudes, skills and virtues. We have to be broadminded, patient, willing to suffer all kinds of pain from the physical to the moral and spiritual. This is the only way we can echo St. Paul’s words of becoming “all things to all men.”