Jesus Christ had an attitude. And for the record, so do I, and you, and everyone on the planet. The word “attitude” has more often had a negative connotation. When we refer to someone “having an attitude,” it usually means they’re being difficult. But when we mean the opposite, we have to qualify its meaning and say that person has “a positive attitude.” Have you noticed that, or am I the only one?
So I went in search of a definition. The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines attitude as “the way you think and feel about someone or something.” That wasn’t much help. In my opinion, everyone thinks and feels something about everyone and everything. Whether it’s the economy, the weather, the new iPhone, the latest hit single on the pop charts, George Clooney and British human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin’s wedding in Venice, and the fact that neither you or I were important enough to be invited, the conflict in the Middle East—any particular part of it or all of it, the president, congress, the mid-term elections, the media, the NFL, Pope Francis, cat videos on YouTube … whatever … I’m sure you have thoughts and feelings about all that! You might not always know exactly what to feel or think about anything at any one moment, but maybe that’s because you haven’t focused long enough to give that feeling or thought a name. But it’s lurking around somewhere in your head and your heart. Sometimes you may feel strongly or have a strong opinion about an issue. And sometimes you just don’t care enough to express what you feel or think, which incidentally is still a feeling or thought.
But attitude has to be more than just the way we think or feel. A second entry defines attitude as “a feeling or way of thinking that affects a person’s behavior.” A-ha! So, although thinking and feeling are quite universal, as in we all have thoughts and feelings about everyone and everything although we might not always express them, an attitude is that feeling or way of thinking that influences behavior. Now our behavior isn’t always the consequence of intense feeling or deep thought. At times our behavior stems from habit. We vote a certain way because we’ve always done it that way. For many years we attend the same church, shop at the same stores, watch the same TV shows, listen to the same radio programs without examining our motives. But if we stop every so often to consider why we do what we do, or something causes us now and again to reconsider our long-held opinions and beliefs, we might be more intentional about our attitudes toward people and things.
The passage we read from the prophet Isaiah last week reminds us that our thoughts are not God’s thoughts, nor our ways God’s ways. We can conform our thinking to God’s way of thinking all we want, but we will always fall short. One reason why it’s not as easy as it sounds is that we are prone to selfishness and greed. Our default setting puts us in the driver’s seat, our concerns front and center. Even unconsciously, we will move toward what pleases and away from what irritates, seeking our greater advantage rather than our disadvantage. And just as Jesus told Peter that one time, he might as well be speaking to us “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” It takes a careful and deliberate consideration of what I feel or think, to act with a clearer purpose and direction. And I can then take better ownership of my own attitude. Unfortunately, we don’t often know what sort of attitude we have until someone mentions it, and usually not in any way that makes us grateful for the heads-up. Have you ever been told your attitude needs adjustment? I bet you don’t take that bit of observation lightly. Them is fighting words. “You don’t like my attitude? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” And it’s typically all downhill from there.
Instead, you can chill. Give yourself a moment to survey the landscape. Maybe clarify the intention behind the observation. Focus on being a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. Then take a deep breath and remember St. Paul’s words to the Philippians: “Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus …” Jesus’ attitude in summary was that he did not regard himself equal to God, but emptied himself, and taking the form of a slave, was obedient to his Father’s will even to death on a cross.
Do we ever think of ourselves as better than our neighbor? Are we ever willing to empty ourselves and take on their less exalted state … because it is the Father’s will? To what purpose though, we may ask? The Father won’t be exalting us as he did the Son. No one will be giving us a name above other names. No knees will be bending in our direction. But that is exactly the thinking Jesus was concerned about when he told Peter, “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Jesus desires above all that we be reconciled with the Father. Our salvation was his highest priority. And tax collectors and prostitutes were receiving the message of reconciliation that John the Baptist preached, and were entering the kingdom of God, even though they initially rejected the Law and its implications in their lives. They were now willing to conform their attitudes, behaviors influenced by their thinking and feeling, to be more like that of Jesus.
God invites us to adjust our attitudes, so that our behaviors are influenced by a way of thinking and feeling no longer based on selfishness and greed, no longer about being in control or having the last word, no longer about our comfort or advantage, but only about being obedient to the Father’s will–which is our reconciliation with God and with one another. Got an attitude that needs adjusting? Having all the right answers isn’t enough. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law had all the answers. Didn’t help them any. It’s more about doing the Father’s will—in humility and obedience. The Word of God and the Will of God in your heart and in your head must find expression in how you face life’s challenges, how you treat your neighbor, and how well you put your faith into practice. Now that’s the attitude!
Rolo B Castillo © 2014