Although destruction of sinners might conjure up harsh images, it reminds me of an Abraham Lincoln quote. When told he should destroy his enemies instead of trying to befriend them, Lincoln asked, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”
It would seem that God’s amazing plan for destroying sinners is to offer them his mercy. We’re told that God is love, a love demonstrated by Jesus’ death and resurrection. He lavished unconditional love on us by his willingness to suffer and die for us. He lavished forgiveness on the enemies who mocked, abused, and crucified him.
God chooses to destroy sinners—and we’re all sinners—by forgiving us and welcoming us back into the loving relationship broken by sin. But God is a lover who respects the free will he gave us. He won’t force his will on us. He leaves us free to accept or reject his invitation, an invitation that involves dying to self and rising to new life in him. The choice is up to us.
Prayer: Lord, lead me away from the self-destructive choices that keep me from your love.
Reflection: What in you needs to be destroyed by God’s unconditional love?
“If I were you…” We’re never on firm ground when we begin there. It’s easy to speak from the sidelines we aren’t the ones going through the challenge. How might the listener react to our views on their condition?
“I know just how you feel.” No you don’t.
“You look so good.” Don’t you believe how much I’m hurting? You think I’m exaggerating?
“What’s done is done. Time to move on.” Too bad I can’t turn my feelings on and off with a switch.
When our loved ones are hurting, we want to comfort them. We may mean well, but what if our words of encouragement aren’t encouraging at all? With the best of intentions, I once told a hurting loved one I knew how she felt. She snapped back that I had no idea how she felt. She was right. I’ve also told people recovering from illness how good they looked, hoping to make them feel better. But when I was in the hospital and someone said that to me, I felt like my condition wasn’t being taken seriously.
Unless we have been through a similar challenge, it’s presumptuous to say we know how someone else feels. Even if we have been through a similar challenge, we may not understand fully the depth of another’s pain, not having their exact temperament, family issues, or extenuating circumstances. God made us all unique. Does that mean we can never offer encouragement to others? Of course not. It does mean we should choose our words wisely—perhaps an honest, “I’m so sorry you’re going through this,” or “I don’t know what to say, but I’m here for you,” or, “How can I help?” Sometimes there are no words.
Sometimes listening is the best gift we can give another. If you’re like me, seeing a loved one hurting is painful—especially when there’s nothing we can do to make the hurting stop. I want to soothe their pain for their sake…and maybe also to relieve my own discomfort. The word compassion comes from the Latin root “to suffer with.” Maybe the most loving helpful gift we can give our suffering friends is the stand with them as they hurt and give them a safe place to express their grief, anger, sadness. Sometimes there is no going around the pain, we have to go through it. Blessed are we if we have someone willing to stand with us on the front lines, someone who resists the temptation to cover it up, rush us through it, or offer advice from the sidelines.
Prayer: Lord, grant me the courage to accompany my loved ones as they walk through challenges.
Reflection: What are some ways to support someone who’s hurting without drowning them “with a flood of words”?
During Mass today, I noticed a father steal a glance toward the back of the church where the children’s choir stood. He stole a moment away from the priest and the altar to look back at where his little girl or boy was singing. Maybe he was glancing back to reassure his child of his support. Maybe he was just peeping back in pride. Maybe a little of both.
Distracted from worshipping God? Maybe. Then again, maybe not. Jesus taught his disciples that welcoming a child is also welcoming Jesus, and God the Father. That fleeting glance away from the altar toward his child took only a few seconds, but was packed with love for that child, and, no doubt, for Jesus and the Father, too. I don’t remember today’s homily, but I do remember the message of love my heart received.
We were all little children, once upon a time. God loved us then and loves us now. Maybe he lovingly glances at us as we perform our jobs at work, or school, or home. Not to catch us messing up, but just because he can’t resist watching us. I’m sure that father at Mass today didn’t care if his little one hit a wrong note or two, or fidgeted, or scratched an itchy nose. Our best is good enough for our loving Father. Our imperfections can’t dampen his love.
Prayer: Father, thank you for lovingly watching over us.
Reflection: What would happen if you immersed yourself in awareness of God’s love for even just a moment?
Inspiration is contagious. When I was in grade school, girls mostly jumped rope or played tag at recess. There was also a clapping game we played together sung to the tune of “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.” One girl, who wore a leg brace and could only use one of her arms, always stood alone and watched the rest of us play. I never gave her much thought until the day I saw my best friend approach the girl. They figured out a way to play the clapping game using just one hand. I was in awe of my friend. Her compassion and ingenuity would have been impressive in someone even more than ten years old. I wanted to be like her. I began playing with the physically challenged girl, too, and we became friends.
Awe is a great motivator. We don’t grow spiritually by brow-beating ourselves. Holiness isn’t fitting ourselves into a moral straight jacket. When we admire others who make generous use of their time, talents, and treasure, they inspire us to do likewise.
Who could be more awe-inspiring than God? Which is why spending time with Him invites us to grow spiritually. When we reflect on God’s love, mercy, truth, and the like, we immerse ourselves in God’s goodness. Mean or shabby motives in our own nature pale in comparison and we become willing to let them slip away.
Time spent with our awesome God changes us from the inside out.
Prayer: Holy, holy, holy Lord.
Reflection: Which of God’s awe-inspiring attributes speaks most to your heart today?
Elisha died and was buried. Every year bands of Moabites used to invade the land of Israel. One time during a funeral, one of those bands was seen, and the people threw the corpse into Elisha’s tomb and ran off. As soon as the body came into contact with Elisha’s bones, the man came back to life and stood up. 2 Kings 13: 20-21
Contact with Elisha’s lifeless bones brought another man back to life. With that much power, why did Elisha die in the first place? Why couldn’t he heal himself? Maybe it’s the same principle as a surgeon who can’t perform surgery on himself. We can do for others what we can’t do for ourselves and they can help us when we can’t make it on our own. We need each other. We’re meant to live in community and help one another.
Sometimes our very wounds and weaknesses empower us to be useful to others. They give us credibility, a point of empathy, common ground, and hands on experience. In AA, one recovering alcoholic helps another in ways a non-alcoholic helper never could. Someone who has gone through similar challenges can give us strength and hope and help us find the way out of our dilemma because they have been there. They know what we’re up against and what it feels like. We can identify with others who have overcome or at least learned to cope with the same challenges we’re facing. There is power in weakness.
Sometimes we are more effective in helping others from a position of weakness. When we feel weak and ineffective God may be preparing us for service. I’ve had physical and emotional challenges that I wouldn’t want to go through again, yet I can see how God has brought good out of each and every one. I’ve been able to encourage others who have similar physical problems or are limited by incapacity. I’ve been able to reassure others in stormy emotional situations because I’ve weathered some myself.
I’ve also learned a lot about being there for others more effectively through my own incapacities. I’ve learned that platitudes don’t help. I’ve learned that offering solutions isn’t necessary—especially when those solutions have probably already been thought of. I’ve learned saying “You look so good” in an effort to cheer up someone who feels lousy can have little effect. It can even make the sufferer think the depth of their discomfort is not understood. Honesty and kindness work. I learned this through my own weakness. As St. Paul said, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12: 10) You can’t get weaker than Elisha’s lifeless remains, but another regained life through them anyway. It wasn’t Elisha’s power, it was God’s. God may work through us best just when we feel weakest.
Prayer: Lord, use my weakness.
Reflection: How might God want to work through your weaknesses?
It’s pretty clear that God prefers kindness than rigid adherence to rules or the kind of long-suffering “martyrdom” that breeds smugness. Self-righteousness and judging others leads away from kindness. Jesus didn’t cling to respectability or the safety of cliques. If we’re his followers, we’re called to reach out to outcasts, too.
Loving our neighbor as ourselves doesn’t make exceptions for the ones who don’t think/dress/vote the way we do. We can be kind to others and treat them with respect and courtesy whether or not we like them personally. Who knows how the Good Samaritan felt about helping someone from an opposing religious sect? The kindness he showed had nothing to do with personal affection.
How can we be kind toward people who oppose the values we cherish or who just annoy the heck out of us? Maybe it helps to remember we aren’t doing it for them, we’re doing it because that’s what God wants. It’s not up to us to determine who is worthy of kindness. Maybe it helps to remember that kindness doesn’t have much to do with deserving it.
The gospel doesn’t tell us the victim the Good Samaritan helped was necessarily a good man. Who knows what he may have done in his life before he was attacked by robbers? If you’re like me, you’ve probably done things in your life you aren’t too proud of. Who hasn’t? Would we make the grade? Treating ourselves with kindness might be a good place to start.
Treating someone with kindness doesn’t say anything about their character, but it says a lot about ours.
Prayer: Lord, lead me in the way of kindness.
Reflection: When have you received kindness you felt you didn’t deserve? Who needs your kindness today?
When the king of Israel saw the Syrians, he asked Elisha, “Shall I kill them sir? Shall I kill them?” “No,” he answered. “Not even soldiers you had captured in combat would you put to death. Give them something to eat and drink, and let them return to their king.” So the king of Israel provided a great feast for them; and after they had eaten and drunk, he sent them back to the king of Syria. From then on the Syrians stopped raiding the land of Israel. 2 Kings 6:21-23
Because Elisha prayed to God, his enemies ended up in the wrong place, Samaria, and therefore under the power of Israel’s king. Elisha urged the king to have mercy on the enemy soldiers–even though Elisha had been their main target.
The captured soldiers could have been executed or held prisoner. Instead, Elisha urged the king to give them a feast and send them home. I’ll bet they never expected that!
Well treated, well fed, and given their freedom, the soldiers “stopped raiding the land of Israel.” Apparently, generosity and love put an end to the raids better than revenge. Retaliation doesn’t always get us what we want. Instead, it adds fuel to the ongoing hostility. But that’s not the first thing we think of when we feel threatened. Counter-attack is an instinctive response. But refusing to retaliate isn’t necessarily being a doormat. Kindness is more effective than vindictiveness.
I tried it once. It worked. Completely unprovoked, a family member said something nasty that hurt me deeply. On impulse, I threw my arms around my critic and apologized for all the hurtful things I had ever said to them. Their jaw actually dropped. After a long, pregnant pause, they gently moved on. Rarely have I felt such power, fully knowing that the power was not mine, but God’s. It worked so beautifully, I wonder why I don’t respond that way all the time.
Someone told Abraham Lincoln he should be trying to destroy his enemies instead of making friends with them. Honest Abe responded, “When I make them my friends, I am destroying my enemies.” What if we kill our enemies with kindness?
Prayer: Lord, teach me how to love my enemies.
Reflection: What might happen if you responded to a hurtful comment with kindness? Are you willing to give it a try?
It may be that Onesimus was away from you for a short time so that you might have him back for all time. And now he is not just a slave, but much more than a slave; he is a dear brother in Christ. How much he means to me! And how much more he will mean to you, both as a slave and as a brother in the Lord! Philemon 15-16
When the slave Onesimus ran away from Philemon, he probably financed his getaway with Philemon’s money. In his travels, Onesimus met Paul, became a Christian, and helped Paul in his ministry. Nevertheless, Paul sent Onesimus back to his master. Paul asked Philemon to forgive the runaway slave and welcome him—not only as a returning slave—but as a Christian brother! That was asking a lot. Perhaps expecting Onesimus to willingly go back was asking even more. There was no guarantee that Philemon would welcome him with open arms. Onesimus returned anyway.
I wonder what Onesimus felt as he headed back. Was he afraid? Reluctant? Hopeful? Eager to make up for the wrongs he had done? When we make amends for wrongs we have done to others, we become truly free. Our integrity doesn’t depend on how others receive our apologies but on our choice to make them.
In his letter to Philemon, Paul told him that if Onesimus owed him anything to charge it to Paul’s account. Then he reminded Philemon of how much he himself owed to Paul, setting the stage for an atmosphere of forgiveness, healing, and the chance to relate on a different footing. When we need to forgive others for wrongs they have done us, it’s easier when we recognize how much we owe God who forgives us for the things we have done.
Prayer: Lord, may the grace of your forgiveness lead to healing.
Reflection: Think of someone you have wronged; say a prayer for them. Think of someone who has wronged you; say a prayer for them, too.
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come!” Everyone who hears this must also say, “Come!” Come, whoever is thirsty; accept the water of life as a gift, whoever wants it. Revelation 22:17
Are you thirsty?
We’re invited to refresh ourselves. The water of life is a free gift…if we want it. We don’t have to earn it; it’s a gift. The only requirement seems to be that once we’re invited, we invite others, too.
Life-giving water isn’t stagnant. What flows in must also flow out. We can’t hoard the invitation. We’re meant to share it. We’re called to offer the water of life to “whoever wants it.” Not just those we think are suited to it, although that might be comfortable. Not even with those we think need it—people don’t always want what they need.
Maybe that’s why Jesus said prostitutes and tax-collectors would enter God’s kingdom before religious authorities. Being an outcast is likely to make us very thirsty. Whatever we think makes us an outcast, isn’t a barrier to being welcomed by God. It’s almost a pre-requisite. Once we receive our invitation, all we have to do is drink deeply and pass it on to other thirsty outcasts.
Prayer: I accept your invitation, Lord. Thank you.
Reflection: Who in your life is thirsty? How can you share your invitation with them?
Well, when you put it like that, there’s really no good answer. Why do we judge others? It’s such an easy pattern to fall into. It happens almost automatically.We know right from wrong, don’t we? Why shouldn’t we judge?
Yes, we need to distinguish right from wrong, but judging behavior isn’t the same as judging the person. We can’t have all the information about another person’s motives, capabilities and circumstances. Only God has that. That’s probably why James starts the above-quoted passage by saying, “God is the only lawgiver and judge. He alone can save and destroy.” That’s not to say that people shouldn’t be held accountable for their behaviors. Actions have consequences.
Perhaps we hear about someone on the news who has done something unspeakable. Maybe it’s someone closer to home who does something clearly offensive, dishonest, or hurtful. It’s so easy to think, “Oh, I would never do that…not in a million years.” Of course we wouldn’t. We aren’t them. Maybe in their shoes, we might have done the same thing or worse. Again, that doesn’t mean excusing people when they hurt others or cause damage, but it does mean not taking an ego trip so we can feel superior.
We have enough on our hands to figure out our own motivations and reasons for the things we do—and even with our “inside” knowledge, sometimes we can’t figure it out. So why do we feel equipped to judge someone else? Do we need to boost our self-esteem by comparing ourselves to those we feel we can look down on? Where does that leave us with regard to those who lead exemplary lives or who do noble things we wouldn’t dream of tackling? We are so much better off when we don’t compare ourselves with others for better or worse.
When we focus on what we’re doing we can improve ourselves by understanding our own failings with the eye of compassion we hope God has for us. Although we can probably offer excuses and explanations for our own transgressions or the times we’ve hurt others—if we think of them at all–won’t we be better off if we pay make amends for the times we’ve hurt others? Wouldn’t our time be better spent doing things that make us feel good about ourselves and our choices? Then we wouldn’t have to look down on others to feel good about ourselves.
Recognizing our need for compassion and mercy will help us have a view to compassion for others, too. God has all the information. Let’s let him worry about judging and pray for His mercy for all of us, since we all need it.
Prayer: Lord, have mercy. Help me see with the eyes of compassion.
Reflection: Who am I judging today? Can I look on the situation with understanding—even if the person I am judging is myself?