Things Jesus Said. . . and meant (3)

Jesus’ view of family was expansive. He loved his mother and all his extended family, but his views of family went far beyond blood relationships.  The gospel of Mark tells us that “all who do the will of God” were considered to be the mother,  brother and sister of Jesus (Matt. 12:50).

When Jesus was hanging on the cross, slowly losing his life, he saw his mother standing there, along with “the disciple he loved” (possibly John, the one who wrote the gospel with this story). Knowing that he could no longer care for his mother, he asked this disciple to care for her…and for her to take care of the disciple:

40 Lent--Holy Week--Words of Jesus--Woman here is your son (click on image to enlarge)

Over the centuries, Christians have interpreted this in a variety of ways, and that is as it should be. Scripture is full of meaning–many layers of meaning, like a poem.

 So what does this bible passage speak to me today? I’m thinking about how this nearly-final utterance of Jesus crosses boundaries. Jesus could have told Mary to go live with her brother, uncle, or cousin. Instead, he asks Mary to take up residence with his friend, a disciple.

His choice is significant because it breaks with blood relationships–and, I assume, the social/religious customs of his time and place.

Jesus’ mother, Mary, enters into a kind of familial relationship with the disciple. John is to treat Mary as his mother, and Mary is to treat John as her son. Considering their culture, this makes it quite likely that Mary would go to live at John’s home, or that John might go to live with her.

All this reminds me that Jesus invites us to view others outside of our blood relatives, as if they were family members. “Love one another” is not only a slogan for those in one’s family, but rather reaches down the street, through the village, beyond culture and nationality–and, in our time, into the global community.

This is especially relevant in this time of intense polarization in my country. Jesus does not love only Democrats or Republicans; rather Jesus loves them all as members of his family. Jesus does not love only “straight” or only “gay” people–Jesus loves them all, and welcomes all to be his “brother” or “sister.” Christ does not view people outside of the Christian church as enemies, but rather as created by God, loved by God, as children of God.

 This is what I believe: Jesus loved all people while dying on the cross.  Jesus died to bring life to the world… the whole world, and all the people in it.

And Jesus continues, this day and into the future, to love all people.

Until next time, Amen! 

Jesus taught, “Love your enemies.”

But to you who hear I say,
love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who mistreat you.
     –Words of Jesus recorded in Luke 6:27-28.

The tenth anniversary of 9-11 will soon be upon us, and I wonder: What I have learned in those ten years? Have I overcome my fears and anger? Have I become more compassionate towards those who are “different” from me?

While thinking about this, I thought it might be worth revisiting a column I wrote at the time of the first anniversary of 9-11, published in The Catholic Spirit and a few other newspapers around the country.

Back then I was pondering the meaning of Jesus’ command to love your enemies, and the context was the ongoing threat of terrorist attacks. Today when I reread it, I think about how so many Americans have turned against each other in their extreme enthusiasm for their favorite political agendas.  At times it seems hostility has become the national pastime.

Being kind to those who hurt us is no easy task, and I certainly struggle with “love your enemies” myself. Nevertheless, if we call ourselves Christ-followers (Christians), then we must strive, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to practice all that Jesus taught.

Here’s that original article:

Praying for Enemies on the Anniversary of 9-11

As the one-year [now 10-year] anniversary of the tragic events of September eleventh approaches, I am pondering the meaning of Christ’s command to “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Just what did Christ mean? Should I pray for terrorists?

A priest I know did just that during a time of shared prayer at church. Some people questioned what he meant by praying for terrorists. Was he condoning their acts of violence and murder? Did he want terrorists to “win” the war?

Praying for one’s enemies does not mean that we agree with their ideas or support evil. Praying for enemies does not mean staying in an abusive relationship. It certainly does not mean that we eliminate praying for the poor, the oppressed, and victims of violence.

Therese of Lisieux at age 15

A startling example of praying for “society’s enemy” is found in the autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. When she was a teenager, Thérèse heard about a notorious murderer named Pranzini, whose story made headline news. While waiting on death row, Pranzini showed no signs of repentance. Because Thérèse felt a great longing to prevent sinners from suffering the pains of hell, she prayed ardently that God would forgive Pranzini, granting him eternal happiness in heaven. On the day following his execution, Thérèse read in the newspaper that “Pranzini had mounted the scaffold without confessing and was ready to thrust his head beneath the guillotine’s blade when he suddenly turned, seized the crucifix offered him by the priest, and thrice kissed the Sacred Wounds.” Thérèse tells us that she felt such joy over this news that tears came to her eyes.

I find it difficult to pray for mildly irritating people, let alone violent criminals. However, someone taught me a method that helps. Setting aside your own agenda (that’s the hard part!), simply ask God to grant this person a pleasant day, peace, joy, etc. If you like, envision the blessings like a gentle rain showering upon this person.

When I pray this way for someone everyday for a month, I often notice a change in myself. Sometimes I begin to see this “enemy” in a slightly better light. I listen to him or her more at meetings.

Some wounds in life—like childhood sexual abuse—are so painful that we cannot do this type of prayer exercise. In these cases, we can pour out our troubles to the Lord, ask for God’s help, seek necessary professional help, and give ourselves time for the healing process. God understands.

Nevertheless, Christ calls us to deepen our love for others by praying for someone we dislike. Why do such a distasteful thing? Jesus explains that because God gives the blessing of sun and rain to all people—both saints and sinners—we must do the same. We ask God to grant our enemies the same love and mercy that God has given us.

Jesus also reminds us that being kind to people we like is not really so special or virtuous. (Even terrorists are kind to people they like!) The Lord Jesus forgave his executioners and the repentant thief during his own crushing agony on the cross. This same Lord promises that when we love our enemies, we will truly become children of God.