There was a priest of a certain parish who had a habit of stopping to talk to beautiful young women. He would approach them in the streets and strike up conversations with them. Sometimes he would even visit them in their homes. Some of the members of the parish began to be concerned by this behavior and worried that it was reflecting badly on them. Finally, they alerted the bishop who decided it was his duty to correct the priest.
One afternoon the bishop paid a visit to the priest in his home. After some polite talk, the bishop finally addressed the issue he had come to discuss.
“I don’t know how else to say this,” the bishop began, “but I’ve heard some troubling reports that you may have become lax in your vows.”
“I’m not sure to what you’re referring,” said the priest, somewhat taken aback.
“Well, I’ve heard reports that you’ve been consorting with beautiful young women, and it has given the appearance of impropriety. I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to stop this behavior for the good of yourself and the good of your parish. A man of the cloth must be beyond reproach.”
The priest bowed his head and said, “Of course I will respect your wishes, your Excellence, but if I may: I thought it far better to talk to beautiful young women while thinking of God than to talk to God while thinking of beautiful young women.”
The Bible is clear that those of us who are leaders in the church are held to a higher standard. This is appropriate and just. But as this humorous parable reminds us, the perception isn’t always the reality. As God tells Samuel, “The LORD does not see what people see; they judge the outward appearance but He judges the heart.” Jesus was critical of religious leaders who focused on shining and polishing the outside of the cup while the inside was full of dirt and grime. He often risked the reputation of a drunk and a glutton to spend time with disreputable people who he wanted to show love and grace to. Disciples are called to follow this example. The heart we present to God is far more important than the appearance we present to the world.
Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…