When Jesus said to his disciples: “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first”, Jesus was 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. Yet, 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 conformed to the love of Jesus the Christ. This means that our focus must shift from that of self 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 on an-us-verses them mentality. They 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. These 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-seated 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 hearts so we can admit it and let it go or going to Jesus for healing or confession. A way to begin to turn away is by taking some deep breaths, asking Jesus to be present in our lives, asking him to shine the light of his love so that we can see what we have hidden, so we can bring the hate to the surface, let it 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 on our journey together, recognizing that the common denominator for each of us is that we are all imperfect, we make mistakes, experience loneliness, and just want to belong.
The ongoing effects of Covid-19, especially the escalation of the outbreak in India, have helped us to see that: “The pandemic has highlighted how vulnerable and interconnected we all are. If we do not take care of each other, starting with the least — those who are most affected, including creation — we cannot heal the world” (Pope Francis, August 202).
In following Pope Francis, let us act more consciously and pray with people of all faith traditions and people of good-will, to renew and continue to conform our lives to the One who gave his life that we might be free from the grip of our own sins, prejudices, and darkness. May we allow the love of the Holy Spirit to guide and flow through us, so as to dissolve walls of hate and division, and instead build bridges of dialogue and healing. Instead of a tit for tat approach to contempt, hate, and dehumanization, we can choose instead to pause, breath, and turn again and again to Jesus for the strength to resist the easy and impulsive reaction so as to not act in kind but instead respond with acts of understanding, empowerment, and love.
I will leave you today with two quotes from those who lived this truth not only between individuals but spurred on social movements that still inspire us today. Please take good care of yourselves and each other.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“The nectar of Love alone can destroy the poison of hate.” – Mohandas K. Gandhi