What does it mean for you and me to altogether live the teachings of Jesus? It means a lot more than we might imagine ever could be asked of us. Let’s ask the greatest American of the Twentieth Century what it means to him. He often wrote and spoke variants of these words:
“To our most bitter opponents we say: ‘We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.’” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his essay, Loving Your Enemies
Many people seem now to know that following Jesus requires that we learn to live in forgiveness and in love. When His disciple Peter asked Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (MT 18:21-23). And He said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (MK 12:31). More and more of us at last are trying to forgive completely and love perfectly! But it turns out that forgiving and loving this way is only spiritual kindergarten. If we intend to follow Jesus with sufficient zeal to help to bring the kingdom of God on earth, we must make these next Gospel passages, too, the center of the way that we work and live:
“But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two” (MT 5:39-41).
“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (LK 6:35-36).
“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (JN 15:12-13).
Until we can say what Dr. King says above, and mean it, and accept whatever comes from it, we cannot call ourselves entirely committed followers of the Son of the Living God. But when we can do that – when we can sing Dr. King’s words and live them, no matter what the cost – then after our few minutes on earth are done, you and I can have the joy of hearing Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (MT 25:21).
Of course, few of us expect to be called to make the ultimate sacrifice. But when you read about the lives of Dr. Bonhoeffer and Dr. King, you can see that the notion that they were fighting the most monumental evils of their time armed only with radical love and kindness, and these struggles might easily cost them their lives, seems seldom to have occurred to them, either. Or if they thought about it, whatever fear they felt was dwarfed by their perfect love for everyone, including their tormentors, and by their finding it unbearable to stay away when there was work they felt called to do. It is this need these young men felt to serve, no matter what the personal cost, that should most puzzle us.
Dr. King, especially, had so much to lose, but still he never wavered! When he had barely turned 27, at the height of the Montgomery bus boycott, he was giving a speech before two thousand people at First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, when someone bombed his house. Dr. King rushed home to make sure his wife and infant daughter were okay as a boisterous crowd assembled outside. These people were infuriated, some were armed, and all of them were bent on revenge. Dr. King stepped out onto his bomb-ravaged porch, and the angry mob quieted to hear him. As quoted by some who were there, this is part of what he said:
“We believe in law and order. Don’t get panicky. Don’t do anything panicky at all. Don’t get your weapons. He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword. Remember that is what God said. We are not advocating violence. We want to love our enemies. I want you to love our enemies. Be good to them. Love them and let them know you love them. I did not start this boycott. I was asked by you to serve as your spokesman. I want it to be known the length and breadth of this land that if I am stopped, this movement will not stop. If I am stopped, our work will not stop. For what we are doing is right. What we are doing is just. And God is with us… Be calm, as I and my family are. We are not hurt, and remember that if anything happens to me, there will be others to take my place.”
These words were spoken by a man barely out of his teens who was educated through the Ph.D. level. He had no duty to be in Montgomery, nor to answer the call to lead this boycott that really was no part of his own. He didn’t even have to live in the South: he could have staying in Boston and ignored it all. But out of love for the desperate downtrodden who were at that moment mobbing his porch, and also out of love for their oppressors, he had put himself and his family at the mercy of haters who just had come scarily close to murdering his wife and child.
Just who was this amazing new man? How, in a world full of self-involved people, does someone so young think first of all in such a desperate situation about loving and protecting his tormentors? What is it in Dr. King and Dr. Bonhoeffer and the few other people like them that makes this impulse toward perfect love and forgiveness not something they have to strive for, but the very core of who they are?
I have been wrestling with our present urgent need to elevate sufficient people spiritually that we can raise the consciousness vibration of this planet and thereby bring the kingdom of God on earth. We have known for years what needs to happen, and I am trying to help you do it for yourself, but there has been a crucial missing piece. I can teach you how to raise your consciousness vibration, and I can tell you why doing that is so important; I even can begin to tell you, based upon a few people I know whose spiritual vibration already is high, how people living with an elevated consciousness vibration are likely to feel and to act. But all of that still feels vague and rudderless, and it is only now that I can see why. What we have needed was a concrete goal, and in the beautiful lives of Dr. King and Dr. Bonhoeffer, at last we have precisely that!
What these modern saints demonstrate for us is the result of their having entirely internalized the Gospel teachings of Jesus. We can see that they aren’t only trying their best. They don’t have to think about struggling to forgive the cruelties being inflicted on them, nor puzzle over what would be the most loving thing to do in each situation, but rather their ability to forgive completely and to love universally springs in abundance from the core of who they are. When it comes to fighting Nazi evil or the cruelties of the Jim Crow South, there are no participation trophies. No, what we see in Dr. Bonhoeffer and Dr. King is confirmation that the Gospel teachings of Jesus can actually, literally, and completely transform us into a new creation!
These two lives are the proof we have needed that if we will learn to live the teachings of Jesus, and if we will teach others to live those teachings, then first one by one and then hundreds by thousands we can begin to make for all of humankind an altogether new beginning. One based in perfect kindness this time, where more and more each person’s impulse, springing from every deepest heart, is to empathize even with those who hate us, to earnestly seek and then to do not what will be best for ourselves and our families, but what seems to be best for all. Dr. King didn’t love his family less than any of us loves our own families. But rather, what he said from his bombed porch that day came from the fact that his being so steeped in the Gospel teachings had elevated his spiritual vibration sufficiently that the love he would naturally feel for his family had become for him a universal love.
And I begin to know how that feels. Years ago, as I was first applying the exercises given in The Fun of Growing Forever, I began to think that perhaps my love for my family was cooling. I no longer saw them as quite so special in the panoply of humankind. It took me awhile to realize that I wasn’t loving my husband and children and my beautiful grandchildren any less, but rather I was loving millions of strangers much more than I ever had before. I can see now that each of these modern saints was living at such an elevated spiritual level that they were loving every stranger around them with such a mighty love that they would have given their lives for anyone passing on the street without a second thought. As Jesus said, “To the extent that you do something to one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you do it to Me” (MT 25:40). That truth is the height of spiritual growth. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (MK 12:31).
Whether you are going to go all-in on being of service to God and to humankind is a matter between you and your guides alone. Each of us is on a different journey. But no matter who you are, no matter what you want to do or how you feel called to serve or not to serve, it is essential that you now make a point of raising your personal consciousness vibration! You needn’t give your life for others to know the joy of living with nothing but love and kindness in your heart. You can serve without doing anything more than so internalizing the Gospel teachings that you are contributing your own elevation of consciousness to the universal human consciousness, and thereby you are helping the Lord to at last bring the kingdom of God on earth.