Not my problem. Do you ever have a situation thrown on you, find a mess somewhere, and just say those words? “Not my problem.” Clearly I did not cause it, this has nothing to do with me, I’m not getting involved. A few months ago I walked into a bathroom at our friary only to find baby powder all over the floor. True story. I took one look at the mess and just said, “Nope. Not my problem,” and decided to use the other bathroom. Another day, I opened up the drawer in the kitchen to find that someone had just dumped all the silverware instead of separating the forks, knives and spoons. I grabbed a spoon, shut the drawer, and said, “Not my problem.” #friarlife
Whether it’s a mess in the house or a frustrating situation at work, the not-my-problem approach is definitely a way to stay sane. As busy as we are, as many problems we have to deal with, it’s relieving to look at a situation and realize that we didn’t cause the it, it has nothing to do with us, and it’s not our battle to fight. Sometimes we just have to let people fix their own problems.
But to what extent?
Say your best friend comes to you for help, even though she didn’t take your advice, and is now in big trouble. Not my problem? Say your child comes to you at 8:00 at night with a science fair project due the next day and he hasn’t even started. Not my problem? Say a close relative calls at 2:00am, having just gotten into an accident because he was drinking and driving, and needs your help. Not my problem?
No matter how inconvenient and unrelated to our own actions, these situations, like it or not, are our problems. It is the responsibility we take on when we enter a relationship, live in society, and call ourselves Church.
It’s situations like these, those times when people bring us their problems and we just want to run from them, that remind me of St. Joseph. Often overlooked, Joseph’s contribution to the Christmas story in our Gospel reading yesterday is not only important to the life of Jesus, it is inspiration to our own situations. The way I see it, Joseph had three options:
1. He could have responded by divorcing Mary publicly, calling attention to her situation. This was probably the most common reaction, the one most people in his society would have expected him to do. He would have been justified by the law, and his reputation would have been held intact. “I did nothing wrong, God does not act in that way—Mary is a liar. Why should I help her? Not my problem.” No one would have faulted him for this option.
2. The second option, which he originally chose, was to divorce her privately so that she wouldn’t have to die. In this option, he runs the risk of losing his good reputation, even being subject to the law, but he lets her live. Maybe he believed what she said, but had some doubts. “It sounds peculiar what Mary told me, but if she is telling the truth, I don’t want to be against God so I’ll let her live and wait and see if she was telling the truth.” Joseph is a “nice guy” to let her live…but he also doesn’t put himself completely out there to stand up for her either.
3. After his dream, he comes to believe that what she says is true, and realizes that her problem is his problem too: This child will take away the sins of the world. He not only lets her live, he welcomes the child into his heart and life, raising him and caring for him, even though it is not his own. In doing so, he accepts not only the public shame from his neighbors but also a major burden on his life, having now to sacrifice time and money for something that he didn’t cause and has almost nothing to do with him.
In our lives as Christians, as we approach the great feast of Christmas, the day the Church celebrates God becoming a human being, we are also given three choices like Joseph:
1. We could choose to be cynical and reject what is hard to believe or inconvenient to us. “It is impossible for a virgin to give birth.” “God cannot become a human.” “Why should I have to help others? It was their mistakes, not mine.” This is the easiest and most acceptable response in our society. If we were to take this road, the road of “not my problem,” not only would we not be shamed, we might even be praised.
2. Our second option, like Joseph, is to profess our faith—with hesitancy. We come to mass, we believe that God could have done something like this, but we’re not really confident enough to let it change our public lives. Religion is what we do in this building on Sundays, and we like it, we’re good people. But like Joseph divorcing Mary privately, we’re not really willing to let other people know what we believe or let our beliefs “inconvenience” our lives.
3. But there is a final option, a perfect option God is calling us to in this season of Advent: to follow St. Joseph in accepting Jesus with our whole heart and let him transform every part of our lives. It’s one thing to let a child live; it’s another thing to raise him as if he were one of our children. To have faith like Joseph means not only believing, but being proud of what God has given us, our faith, and letting it change our private lives, our social lives, even our financial lives to let it grow.
When we look at our lives and out into the world, we see so many things that are “not my problem.” The human family is not exactly known for its great decision making, and we find so many people putting themselves in harm’s way, bringing heartache upon themselves and others. Unwanted pregnancies, drug addictions, major credit card debt. There are also those who maybe because of the fault of someone else are in a bad situation. Immigrants and refugees, mental illness, human trafficking. For each of these situations, it is easy to say that we did not cause these situations, it has nothing to do with us, and so we shouldn’t get involved. Especially this time of year: “C’mon, it’s Christmas, it’s a stressful time for all of us, and I just want to enjoy it with my family and not have to worry about anyone else’s problems.”
And we could respond in this way. We could focus on how we feel, how we don’t want to be inconvenienced, and how we are free from responsibility. “Not my problem Mary. I’m busy enough as it is.” But I tell you, like it or not, if we love the person, it is our problem. We would never ignore our best friend, we would never let our child fail, and we would never let our close relative deal with a great struggle alone, even if it is not our fault. Like Joseph, we do not get to choose what God asks of us; all we get to decide is how we are going to respond. God is asking of us, in this final week before Christmas, to prepare to receive his son in this world. When we see him, when we see the body of Christ broken and battered, when we see the suffering of our brothers and sister in Christ, will we welcome him into our lives with open hearts like Joseph, or will we turn from the inconvenience and say to our Lord, “not my problem”?