When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:33–34
Let’s get real, Jesus’ response would not be my response. My response would be so much different, harsher, vengeful. Jesus response seems impossible, almost wrong. And because I don’t want to deal with the real reasons why that is, I instinctively hang that on the divine part of the fully God and fully man Jesus. Maybe I do that with other things that Jesus says that I deem too hard. How about you? The problem with this approach to Jesus is that it is, well, heretical. You see, Jesus was fully God, but he was also fully man. When he looked down from the cross at the evil men who were doing evil to him, he did not feel hate, but compassion, and he did so as fully human. He did not fight their hate with hate, he did not seek respond to the violence perpetrated upon him by retaliating in violence toward them. In order to read that passage in a non heretical way, I must believe that this was not only possible for Jesus, but is possible for me, and for you — as we act as transformed Kingdom agents in the midst of a broken and troubled world. So how do I get there? How do you put on the mind of Christ Jesus as it relates to loving my those who have wronged you (even if they are not sorry)?
The answer is perspective. What is my perspective and how might that be different from Jesus’ perspective? How do I view people who do bad things and how does Jesus view people who do bad things? Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. discusses these very questions in his sermon, Love in Action. His answer startles me in it’s simplicity; “Jesus was nailed to the cross not simply by sin but also by blindness. The man who cried, ‘Crucify Him,’ we’re not bad men but rather blind men.” How quickly my perspective begins to change when I view the people not as sinners first but first as people made in the image of God but blind to that reality. Think of a person who has wronged you, think of an evil that has been perpetuated by someone. Imagine what is lacking in that person that allows them to believe and behave as if their actions are ok, even life giving to them. Contrast that to the reality of the life, peace and joy that Christ promises. And yet they are blind to that better reality. And so they hurt you, or someone you love. And while that is wrong and painful, it is also true that for some reason they are blind to the the beauty of the life that they were designed for in Christ — and that is tragic. Now reality tells me that this perspective adjustment is fine in theory but much harder in times where someone is actually hurting me or someone else. Though likely true, awareness is a first huge step of transformation. My work and your work, then, is to then carry that awareness with you and ask yourself hard questions about how you view the people who do bad to you. That is the hard work that each of us is called to, but it is hard work that Jesus tells us will free us from the things in us that are not like him. And that is his invitation he calls us to when he invites us to love our enemies; because in doing so we become more like him and less like them.
I have loved our focus these past few months on our call to be people of Justice. Living into this call requires leaning into what are the character traits that need to be transformed in us. It is hard but good work. It also requires exposure to needs and action to meet injustices. As we move into the last two weeks of this focus, continue to do the hard work, pick up a book from the lending table, bring in food and your Justice Coin Cans, attend the Rape for Profit movie on February 28th. This is the work that it takes for ordinary people to experience the extraordinary way of Jesus. And, start asking “what is the dark place in the world that I am called to?” Last Sunday I showed a video of Rich Bowen, an ordinary guy who is experiencing the extraordinary way of Jesus through his work with the Renewal Food bank. If you have not seen the video I encourage you to watch it here.
Peace, hope and love