When I think of Jesus’ command to love others as he has loved us, I feel as if I somehow fall short. I feel like I always need redirection to remind me that I need to love first and judge later. This was something that my mother spent many long days trying to impart to my brothers and I. This was not an easy lesson for me to learn and still learning just how much Jesus has loved me and just how much I need to love others. As a child, I was bullied in school by the girls in my class and occasionally a few of the boys would join in especially in those middle school years. I remember one such day coming home from school in tears and telling my mother how much I hated another child because they had spent all day making fun of me in class because I couldn’t read when it came to my turn to read out loud. For those of you who don’t know, I was a late reader and spent many a years in remedial reading developing those skills. I was ostracized on the playground and told that I was too stupid to be friends with these girls. The words that they used left deep scars on my self esteem for many years.
I remember vividly feeling discouraged with myself and being filled with disappointment with my peers. In those moments, I was not thinking about love, compassion and care. I wasn’t thinking about Christ’s love for them. I was questioning why God would make me the way that he did. And just as painful as it was for me, I can only imagine how it must have made my parents feel to see their child struggling as they did.
But it was not alright to relish in pain in my household. It was not alright to judge someone else even based upon the words that they used because as my mother pointed out, I didn’t know their lives, their struggles and when they picked on me that could reflect their own inner pain. She taught me how to have compassion even when I didn’t want to. She opened my eyes to the struggles of all peoples. She taught me that we all struggle with different things in life and we don’t have to let those struggles define us. I was love by my family, by my church family, and by God. In God’s eyes, I was perfectly made despite my educational struggles.
I consider myself lucky for all my experiences in life the challenges and the successes because they have been used by God to mold me and shape me. They have taught me to love and to be open the lives of others. I have been bullied occasionally since then, even as an adult from time to time and when I start to feel sorry for myself, to question myself, I hear the words of my mother in the back of my mind just as prominent as I did as a child, “You are loved. You are special and so are they.”
This sentiment is mirrored in our scriptures for this morning, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you”. Jesus loved all peoples no matter their backgrounds, no matter their words, no matter their actions in life. When Jesus was dying upon that cross, he placed aside his own pain and showed his true love and compassion for others when he asked for forgiveness for those who brought about his death. We are being challenged to live into that same intensity of love with our lives. We are to care for others who are in need. Those who really need to feel the compassion and love of another person in their lives. We are challenged to care for other people even when that love and care is not reciprocated.
This is perhaps one of the hardest things to live into. Caring for someone who does not show thanks or care towards you can be one of the hardest things to do. We may never be able to love those people fully. However, we can at least feel compassion and care for them. We are being asked to live outside ourselves, to be able to have compassion and to understand the complexity of all people’s lives. We never truly know the pain and struggles that another person might be going through. Once we understand this, it makes it so much harder to hate and easier for us to turn the other cheek and to at least move on with our own lives.
Jesus encourages us to live life with empathy. To do this, we need to constantly be willing to learn about one another and it does not always come easily. It is something that as human beings living in fellowship with the world, we are constantly working towards in life. Remember as you go forth to celebrate your Mother’s Day, that we are being called to help one another live a life of compassion and care and to continue to allow for our love of humanity to rise above the conflicts and abuses that we experience in this world. We are called to love one another as Jesus has loved us. This does not mean we need to reach out to every single person who has hurt us in life and love them but this does mean that we could have compassion for their struggles. So live your lives this week with empathy and love and when we get frustrated with others let’s try to be understanding and to reach out in fellowship before we shrink back in distrust and fear.
(based on John 15: 9-17)