With the opening words of today’s Gospel of John: Jesus said to his disciples: “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first”, Jesus is not proposing an us verses them mentality. It can be easily taken that way, and certainly has been lived out in many ways in our society and world. An us verses them mentality is usually a defensive posture assumed by those who feel or are actuality being persecuted. It is an understandable posture. It is just not the stance that Jesus proposes us to take. We are to love our enemies, we are to love those who hate us. Impossible? Only on our own will power alone, for apart from Jesus we can do nothing, but with him all things are possible.
Jesus is making it plain to his disciples that they need to be prepared, that what is coming is the same that has been happening to him. They will be persecuted, mocked, imprisoned, and give their lives just as Jesus did. The gospel message is a challenge. We are challenged to have a change of mind and heart, to be more conformed to the love of Jesus the Christ. This means that our focus must shift from our self as first and foremost to God who is to have the primary sense of place in our lives.
We know we are putting God first instead of our fallen nature when we react less and love more. Reactions are based in an us vs. them mentality. They and them are responsible for the state I am in, they are taking my jobs, they are not allowing me to worship or speak in the way I want to, it is all their fault, they made me do it, are all reactive thoughts that lead to uglier statements and actions. Jesus invites us to assume the disposition of mindful action not reaction.
The way we can be more mindful and less reactive is to be people of prayer and meditation. Much of our reaction comes from our harried pace, keeping us from being in touch with our deep seeded fears and prejudices. We run from the mirror Jesus holds up to us. We need to stop and pray regularly. See the sin in our heart so we can admit it and let it go. We begin by taking some deep breaths, asking Jesus to be present in our lives, asking him to shine the light of his love so to see what we have hidden, so we can bring the hate to the surface, let is go, be forgiven, and be set free.
We can then be in a better place to ask for the healing to continue, for Jesus to help us to be more patient, understanding, truer to who he calls us to be, which is people of love, willing the other’s good, accepting and encountering each other as fellow brothers and sisters in Jesus on our journey together, recognizing that the common denominator for each of us is that we are wounded, lonely, and just want to belong.
This Memorial Day weekend, as we honor the many who have given their lives that we may live in freedom, may we renew and continue to conform our lives to the One who gave his life that we may be free from our own sin, prejudices and darkness. May we allow the flow of the love of the Holy Spirit to guide us, so to tear down walls of hate and division, and instead build bridges of love and reconciliation. In this way, when we experience hate, dehumanization, and defamation, indirectly through multiple media platforms and directly in our own lives, let us greet each with a breath, a pause, and a turning again and again to Jesus for the strength to resist the easy and impulsive reaction, and respond instead with mindful thoughts, words, and actions of understanding, faith, hope and love.
We are to hold people accountable, but not by reacting in the same negative manner. In a world filled with darkness, hate, and violence, let us be bearers of light and love, and advocates of reconciliation. I will leave you today with a quote from someone who understood from direct experience how Jesus wanted us to respond to hate:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive our hate; only love can do that.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Photo: Crusaders ready to begin to write their next chapter, armed with light, love and reconciliation.