Tuesday: 16 June, 2015 –– 11th Week in Ordinary Time
Christian Faith is full of hard things. Some things, like the Trinity, are hard to understand. Other things, like today’s Gospel, are hard to do.
The essence of Christian practice is loving like Jesus. That is enough to keep us perpetually on our knees, at least figuratively. Loving like Jesus is not just some lofty idea. Christian love is not mere sentiment and its effect is not the “warm fuzzies”. In this broken world, love hurts.
Jesus both teaches and models what real love is. That is one way to get a practical handle on the Gospel readings yesterday (Matthew 5:38–42) and today. In yesterday’s reading, Jesus tells us what love does not do: love does not resist an evil person…. love does not hit back. In today’s reading Jesus tells us what love does: love even loves enemies…. love prays for those who persecute.
It is hard to get around this when Jesus modeled it so fully. Peter is explicit in his first letter:
For what credit is it, if when you do wrong and are beaten for it you take it patiently? But if when you do right and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God's approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly. (1Peter 2:20–23)
One way to express the essence of God’s character––and again, Jesus models this totally––is suffering love. This is how followers of Jesus are to find basic orientation as we journey through this world.
I cannot begin to deal with the many implications of this in a daily homily. Perhaps that is good. Maybe we all need to spend time reflecting on the general orientation before we pursue the side-trail implications. Yet I do need to acknowledge the big “what if” question that is always asked when any focus is given to the nonresistant love of Jesus. To do this, I’m reminded of a day when I was in seminary listening to a NT lecture about “Jesus and Ethics of the Kingdom”. I’ve never gotten over what I heard that day…. and I hope I never do.
The prof––my most incredible teacher, ever––had taken us to what is, at the same time, this most exhilarating and most awful climax of what it means to follow Jesus in suffering love. He did so with humble honesty. Even as he exalted our Lord who humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross (Phlp 2:8), he confessed his––and our––weakness in contemplating such a thing. Then he told of a time when he gave the same lecture while on sabbatical in Africa. One of the students responded, asking the what if question: “But what would you do if a man had killed your son and violated your wife or daughter?”
My prof said that in that moment the Holy Spirit gave him an answer: “I don’t know what I’d do…. but let me tell you what I wish I could do…. I wish I would be able to love that man the way that God loved me when I killed his Son.”
That is suffering love. That is how we need to hear Jesus in these Gospel readings. And if we do, we’ll know that every moment of every day we need to be on our knees…. at least in our hearts. That’s the only way we can totally follow Jesus in suffering love.