Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offence, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring Your light.
– Attributed to St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), from “Peace Prayer” (translated 1912)
Once we have resolved to make living and sharing the Lord’s Way our priority, how should we be managing our lives so we can act in accordance with the teachings of Jesus? In a world beset by poverty and rage, plagued by malevolent state actors, and at risk of environmental disasters, terrorism, and many little wars, how does Jesus tell us we can effectively work toward giving this world a brighter future? To what extent should we act politically? How can we best help the poor? What is the Godhead calling us to do?
And fortunately, Fr. Richsrd Rohr, the Franciscan monk who is our source for the most deeply discerning and actively positive take there could be on Christianity, has answered this question definitively. He says, “In 1998, I spent three days immersed in the life, spirit, and ministries of Mother (now Saint) Teresa’s (1910‒1997) community at the motherhouse in Calcutta….. The sisters didn’t waste time fixing, controlling, or even needing to understand what is wrong with others. Instead, they put all of their time and energy into letting God change them. From that transformed place, they serve and carry the pain of the world….
“I even dared to ask one of the leaders about one of the most common criticisms of Mother Teresa: ‘Why did Mother not speak out against social injustice? Why did she not point out the evil systems and evil people that are chewing up the poor? Why did she not risk some of her moral “capital” to call the world, and even the church, to much-needed reform?’ The answer was calm, immediate, and firsthand. Mother Teresa felt that if she took sides, or played the firebrand, that she could not be what Jesus had told her to be—love to and for all. She said that if she started correcting and pointing out ‘sinners’ she could no longer be an instrument of love and reconciliation for them. Humiliated and defensive people do not change. Like her patron Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-1897), her vocation in the church was to be love. She knew that her primary message had to be her life itself, not words or arguments or accusations. She had found that ‘third something’ that is always beyond the calculating and dualistic mind.”
Please read that last paragraph a few times today. And please keep it handy so you can read it again whenever your need not to take a political side starts to frustrate you. The world can get along just fine with fewer well-intentioned firebrands! You and I and Mother Teresa have no moral capital at all that doesn’t come from the Godhead via the teachings of Jesus. The Lord tells us even more emphatically than Mother ever could how essential it is that we who have accepted His call to follow His Way must be immersed only in the Oneness of God. The degree to which He insists that we not claim primacy, that we not fight, that we submit in all things to God’s will, astonishes us as we encounter it over and over in the Gospels. Please sit with me now at the feet of Jesus as we ask Him directly how we who seek to follow His Way should manage our lives and our work for Him. Please read each of these passages thoughtfully and with reference to your own life. The Lord says:
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (MT 6:1-6).
“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).
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (MT 5:43-48).
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return” (LK 6:37-38).
“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).
“Do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?
“And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these! But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (MT 6:25-33).
“Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all” (MK 10:14-15).
What strikes us most when we read the Lord’s words is how consistently radical His message is! His Way is neither weak nor passive, but rather Jesus personifies a powerful and perfect love for all of humankind, and especially including the most evil people. He calls us to do for our oppressors even more than they require us to do! He insists that our love for God should include a trust that God will provide for our needs. He demonstrates a love for His tormentors so intense that as nails are being pounded into His wrists and feet, His foremost concern is to assure those doing the pounding that He forgives them and that God forgives them (See Luke 23:34).
We have seen this same kind of radically active and trusting, self-effacing love in some of the Lord’s greatest modern followers. Dietrich Bonhoeffer fought the Nazis’ murder-machine with just his pen and the perfect love of God, and he was martyred in a death-camp at the age of thirty-nine. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. also was martyred at thirty-nine. Dr. King had such a sure connection to the radical power of God’s love that when racists bombed his home while his wife and infant daughter were inside, he was able to tell an angry mob bent on revenge that fighting violence with violence gets us nowhere so they must now peacefully disperse. Saint Teresa of Calcutta spent her life tending the poorest victims of economic injustice, and her love empowered her to triumph over what must have been an overwhelming need to intervene in the political system that had done these victims such tremendous harm. You and I follow in the footsteps of giants in service to God’s perfect truth.
Jesus lived in turbulent times. He was born in a subject state of the Roman Empire as a member of a despised religion, in a part of the world that had often been conquered and soon was going to be conquered again. Our own turbulent times are surely no worse than that! And now our path is clear. If we seek to follow the Lord’s Way, we must apply the Oneness of God to every challenge we might ever face. But how would such a plan work in practice? We’ll start to put our minds to that next week….
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy!
O Master, let me not seek as much to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives, it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.
– Attributed to St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), from “Peace Prayer” (translated 1912)