Thomas a Kempis writes, “If you were but worthy to suffer something for the name of Jesus, what great glory would be in store for you, what great joy to all the saints of God, what great edification to those about you! For all men praise patience though there are few who wish to practice it.” But it is in the suffering of the cross that we find our victory… Again, Brother Thomas writes, “In the cross is salvation, in the cross is life, in the cross is protection from enemies, in the cross is infusion of heavenly sweetness, in the cross is strength of mind, in the cross is joy of spirit, in the cross is highest virtue, in the cross is perfect holiness. There is no salvation of soul nor hope of everlasting life but in the cross.” I was reminded of all this in our reading. We praise patience: those who turn the other cheek, those who gift wrap their cloaks, those who love and pray for their enemies, those who sacrifice. We praise those who do, but who really wants to practice that? In the cross – in sacrifice is joy – but who really wants to sacrifice.
Two brothers were playing on the sandbanks by the river. One ran after another up a large mound of sand. Unfortunately, the mound was not solid, and their weight caused them to sink in quickly. When the boys did not return home for dinner, the family and neighbors organized a search. They found the younger brother unconscious, with his head and shoulders sticking out above the sand. When they cleared the sand to his waist, he awakened. The searchers asked, “Where is your brother?” The child replied, “I’m standing on his shoulders.”
Jesus says that we are willing to do this sort of thing for our friends and those we love, but how do we learn to do it for a perfect stranger? How do we learn to love an enemy in this same way?
The answer and the ability comes only by looking to the example that Jesus has set for us. Paul says to us, “while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son.” We were once enemies of God, but through his great love for us we were reconciled to Him. Paul goes on to teach us, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
It is in our very nature to want to repay the evils that have been done against us and our culture through various media does nothing but reinforce that sentiment, but Jesus would have us address our enemies and those who wish us harm in a different way. He would have us walk with them. Pray for them. Love them.
We may not all have great enemies, but if we can learn to practice this with those who simply irritate us, then we will have made great strides.