An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth — retaliation — was the highest form of justice in Jesus’ day. But he changed the rules of human morality by preaching and living a peculiar unworldliness that has us loving others, even at the cost of harm or disadvantage to ourselves. The love that Jesus says should characterize us should be unconditional; in other words, not dependent on the worthiness or unworthiness of the other person.
I expect never to encounter or to hear of a real-life example of such love more remarkable and inspiring than that of a post-middle-age couple interviewed on TV several years ago. Their beautiful daughter had been unspeakably brutalized and murdered by a young man. He was arrested and brought to trial. It was an open & shut case. The deceased girl’s parents were asked how they felt toward her assailant. They responded, He is God’s child also, even though what he did to our daughter was horrible beyond words. We don’t want him to be executed or to suffer the rest of his life. We are praying for him, that he’ll repent of his crime and accept the grace of God in rebuilding his life so that he can help others, no longer hurt them.
If that isn’t a modern version of Jesus’ death on the cross, I don’t know what is. Just imagine what kind of world ours would be if every human being had that generous, loving, life-giving attitude toward others!
But that’s precisely what we said yes to when we decided to become Christians.
We start living that way when we look at someone’s crime or evil act and say, “That’s probably the worst thing this person has ever done; but how much good she must also have accomplished. I’ll pray that she will recover from this terrible decision, make amends for what she’s done and move on to a good and unselfishly loving life.”
Against the background of a maze of legal nit-picking, Jesus spoke of only two laws: first, love God, your creator; the second: love everyone else, without exception. Give extravagantly, he taught us; resolve always to forgive, not merely to punish; reward in excess of merit; let your love go beyond the requirements of justice.
It’s as if God were saying through Jesus, “You are made in my image & likeness. And I am infinitely more than just; I am loving and merciful. I am forgetful of your faults and always aware of your marvelous potential. You are less likely to sense my presence in the studied good order of a courtroom than you are in the splendid splashes of skies and forests and the boundless vitality of noisy playgrounds!”
In this connection, our spiritual director in seminary inspired us, I continue to remember so clearly, with a beautiful story: he said that a young nun with a basket hanging from her forearm was going from store to store begging for food for the elderly poor her community cared for. In a meat store, the butcher took the opportunity to belittle and embarrass her by cursing the kind of work she was doing and asking nastily why she didn’t get a respectable job like everyone else’s. She stood with bowed head and teary eyes, he said, as he assaulted her with increasing venom. When he stopped, she said, “That’s for me sir. Would you now give me something for our poor?” Father Baker said he filled her basket!
The Scriptures tell of signs & wonders the early disciples were performing and observing after Jesus’ resurrection from death. Among them there surely had to be the “miracles” (so to speak) of persons acting in ways that are certainly not normally human. We are told that they were returning love for hatred, accepting hurts with patience and even cheerfulness, giving without thought to cost, forgiving with no strings attached, and rejoicing in the success of others.
People couldn’t help but notice.
The age of miracles has not passed.