It is a beautiful evening nearing sunset. The sky is ablaze with color, pinks and blues and greys. You can’t help but thank God for the eyes to see such beauty, and the legs to walk in freedom wherever you like. You are lost in thought as you round the corner out of your neighborhood. The path stretches before you leaving the familiar behind as you cannot help but take in all the beauty surrounding you. A couple feet away, a bunny scurries on the path and ducks beneath a sage bush.
Looping around on the final expanse that leads back to your home, you come upon a bizarre accident in which no first responders have arrived.
You are the first on the scene. Your heart begins to race as you determine the next step to take. You regret not having grabbed your cell phone on the way out the door. Amidst the rubble you ascertain that there are several people who are hurt. No sound of distant sirens, only soft moaning and crying from the victims. Stunned and feeling helpless, you begin to inspect the calamity strewn about, not knowing exactly where to begin.
Carefully navigating the debris, you encounter the first victim. She does not appear to be severely hurt, only some scrapes and bruises, possibly a broken bone. You are unable to determine if there is internal damage. She cries out to you to help her, but there are others who are much worse off than she. You promise to return and move on.
The next individual is much worse off. Blood seems to be everywhere, and you are unable to determine the source or intensity of the injury. He is unconscious. Upon closer inspection, there is something familiar about this person. Your mind is racing, your heart is beating out of your chest, you feel so helpless. Mentally, you cannot shake the feeling that you know this person, but it’s hard to tell as he is so badly disfigured? Moving on, you assess the next person. Their moaning is by far the loudest. Carefully making your way, you are shocked to realize beneath the blood, debris, and bruises, that it is in fact someone from your past. A sick feeling rises from your gut. The visceral contempt you have for this person whom you thought you would never see again, lies helpless before you. He is in shock and does not appear to recognize you. This knowledge catapults your anger into another dimension. The inexpressible damage he did forever changed the course of your life for the worst. Memories swirl in your mind and wash over you. It feels like you are right back in that moment of treachery. He moans and reaches out to you begging for you to “do something” and help him. He is trapped under part of the wreckage and it is crushing his torso. Clearly, he is in great pain and distress but, you consider it nothing compared to the damage he did to you and many others. Visibly shaken, your emotions are uncontrollable. You stare blankly at this person who devastated your life. You cannot help but turn away overcome with a gut-wrenching hate. All the people whose lives were negatively impacted, wrongly disregarded, tossed aside with contempt and little concern for their future or livelihoods.
It feels like you are right back in that moment of treachery.
Suddenly it occurs to you who the earlier unconscious person was, and you shudder in horror. That face peddled the lies and perpetuating the deception. Complicit, and indifferent for the innumerable innocent victims.
The first victim calls out to you again. A moment of clarity strikes your heart, “Wait, I know that voice.” Your head is reeling. Why this flood of so many emotions? Without warning a thought tiptoes into your mind amid this mayhem, “Guess they are getting what they deserve.” You hate yourself for even thinking that. What were they all doing together when this occured-planning more deceit and misfortune?
Still no sirens or help. You are there, and no one else is coming. What do you do?
What faces in your own life experience do you see on each one of the victims? An old high school bully who caused you incredible grief, embarrassment, and pain. An employer who was responsible for unjustly firing you as the scape goat for their illegal practices. Perhaps it is a member of the clergy, a coach or teacher whom your family trusted but secretly did unforgivable things to you. What about the neighbor kid who got your brother on drugs that eventually took his life? Perhaps it is an irresponsible political figure or judge, living a double life, and contributing to the corruption of a generation or organization?
You get to decide whose faces you see on those victims that lay there before you, and the next move you will make. What was the likelihood that these three would be together in this predicament and that it would be you who decides their fate? The air is suddenly thick. Your mind and heart are fluctuating between the hate and harm these three caused you personally and the untold damage to others as well.
While you cannot save them all, what is your next step?
Jesus is asked this very question, “and who is my neighbor?” How do we “love our neighbor” when their life choices hurt us personally or someone we love? To grasp what is required of us as Christians we must put a face on each of these people. Not the face of our loved ones, people we would do anything to save, but people we loathe or hate. Why?
It is easy to do heroic things for people we like or love. It is an unselfish act of virtue to love another who has deeply hurt us. It is only possible if we love Christ and through Him we can and must love our worst enemy. I too struggle with this call to love.
This is exactly what Jesus Christ came and did for every human person; past, present, and future. While we were still in sin, doing all the wrong things for the wrong reasons, when we were selfish, and foolish, and wicked; Christ obediently and with great love, fully took on to Himself all our sins knowing them intimately, and brought them to the Cross. He paid the ransom for our very souls.
So, this Lent, I ask us to ponder that reality. When we are not eating meat on Friday or abstaining from some small pleasure, we must not whine and grumble. Take up what God has asked of you in your discernment. We should not give up anything out of some disconnected habit. Do not complain when our little toothpick-sized crosses get a little heavy and we want to toss them aside thinking “God doesn’t love us.”
This empties the Cross of its power to transform us.
Love should drive everything we do this Lent and every day after it. Because He loved us first, picked up our cross and carried it with the rest of humanities junk, just so He could have the chance of spending an eternity in paradise with us.