Catholic Culture Solidarity
Catholic Culture Solidarity

Mind Your Own Business

By Fr. Jerry Pokorsky ( bio - articles - email ) | Sep 25, 2023

In general it’s a good idea to mind our own business. We avoid needless complications in our relationships, respect the freedom of others, and—as George Washington observed in his Farewell Address—avoid foreign entanglements. Busybodies cause a lot of damage. On the other hand, John Stuart Mills warns, “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.” The Scriptures help us know the difference.

As the saying goes, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” St. Paul warns, “We hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work…we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work in quietness and to earn their own living.” (2 Thess. 3:11-12) Elsewhere, St. Paul observes that some “learn to be idlers, gadding about from house to house, and not only idlers but gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.” (1 Tim. 5:13) To summarize: Get back to work and mind your own business!

In the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (cf. Mt. 20:1-16), each laborer receives the same monetary reward regardless of the number of hours worked. The instruction has several layers of meaning. God’s ways are not our ways. We must expand our sense of justice to include His mercy. God desires to save those who live dissolute lives as much as the righteous. He lavishes His grace on us in ways we cannot understand. Honest labor restrains the busybody in all of us.

The parable also implies that we should mind our own business. Do not resent the success of others. Suppress the urge to gossip. Extinguish resentments by purifying our motives. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31)

In the beloved parable of the Prodigal Son, the young son received his father’s inheritance, “gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living.” (Lk. 15:13) Recognizing that he has ruined his life, he returns, and his father receives him with open arms. The older brother is annoyed by his easy return and celebration. If we’re honest about our own sentiments, can we blame him? But the parable reveals God’s fast lane of repentance and restoration. The story also hints that the older brother should mind his own business. There’s plenty of work for everyone.

When Jesus and His apostles enter a Samaritan village, the apostate Samaritans refuse to receive them. James and John ask: “Lord, do you want us to bid fire come down from heaven and consume them?” (Lk. 9:54) Jesus rebukes them and—so it seems—playfully applies the surname, “Sons of Thunder” (cf. Mk. 3:17). Later Jesus warns Peter in the Garden, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Mt. 26:52) The accounts teach us to extinguish our hatred and desire for revenge.

The incidents also teach Peter, James, and John to mind their own business. If we look for trouble, we’ll find it. St. Francis of Assisi prays, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” As busybodies, we often pray the opposite: “Lord, make me an instrument of your wrath.”

Jesus visits the house of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. Martha is busy with preparatory housework, and Mary is listening at the feet of Jesus. Martha complains and asks Jesus to send Mary to help with her chores. Jesus reminds her: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Lk. 10:41-42) This encounter too has several compatible meanings. Martha is the model of the active Christian life, and Mary is the model of the contemplative life. Hyperactivity is an enemy of prayer and contemplation.

The account also teaches Martha to mind her own business. When we excessively focus on our grievances, we become busybodies. Fixated on hurts and slights, we even neglect the work that God requires for us to fulfill our respective vocations. As we overcome tendencies to compare ourselves to others and interfere in their lives, we also avoid sins of gossip and detraction.

Occasionally, of course, we need to make another person our business. We are, after all, “our brother’s keeper.” So authorities have an obligation to make so-called “paternal corrections” as circumstances dictate. Similarly, the strict conditions of “fraternal correction” may also apply. Most of us know the feeling that comes upon us when a hypercritical spirit grips us, and mot of us have experienced the havoc that it unleashes. Relentless nitpicking is the hallmark of a busybody who is too eager to express views on how others should live their lives.

Jesus received many demands from busybodies who wanted to control His life. “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places and calling to their playmates, ‘We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’” (Mt. 11:16-17) Busybodies want Jesus to mind our business.

Some even identified Jesus as an arbiter, a judge of behavior and commerce: “One of the multitude said to him, ‘Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me.’” Jesus refuses to take the bait. He said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?” (Lk. 12:13-14) Reluctance to run the lives of others is praiseworthy. Even Jesus minds His own business. His business is to go about His Father’s business (cf. Lk. 2:49).

Unless we have a clear obligation to speak up, we usually cannot go wrong when we mind our own business. But it takes God’s grace, effort, self-control, wisdom, and patience. Pope John XXIII famously suggested: “See everything; overlook a great deal; correct a little.” Wise advice.

Better yet, listen to Jesus and mind the Father’s business.

Fr. Jerry Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington who has also served as a financial administrator in the Diocese of Lincoln. Trained in business and accounting, he also holds a Master of Divinity and a Master’s in moral theology. Father Pokorsky co-founded both CREDO and Adoremus, two organizations deeply engaged in authentic liturgical renewal. He writes regularly for a number of Catholic websites and magazines. See full bio.

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