1 John 3:18-24
I am fascinated by the theme of connection that runs through today’s readings. We are connected to Christ, the vine in whom we live and to whom we offer praise. We are connected in love through the vine to all the other branches. There is something very reassuring in this talk of abiding intimacy and love.
Yet there are deep implications lurking below the feel-good surface. For instance, just this morning I was talking to a friend about someone for whom I have lost respect. I will not choose to work with him again, and I am saddened by all the people he has hurt. Yet I am connected to him. He is part of the vine, too – one of the branches just as I am. And Jesus asks me to love him, that God may be glorified. Ouch.
Of course, Jesus doesn’t ask me to be a doormat. I can take reasonable precautions, as the apostles did with Saul before they allowed one who had been killing their friends to walk freely in their midst. I don’t have to work in an unhealthy or abusive relationship with anyone. I don’t have to make myself vulnerable to almost certain hurt.
But I do have to love. I do have to honor my connection through Christ even to those who have hurt me or acted in ways I cannot condone, in fact, even to those who have caused me irreparable harm. This kind of love is not a warm, fuzzy feeling. It is a choice that stretches me to the limits and makes demands that sometimes seem beyond my capacity.
No matter how deeply I have been wronged, can I work through and express my feelings until I am ready to let go of my anger and hurt? Can I release my desire to see the other person suffer as much as I have suffered? Can I shed revenge and my human definition of "justice"? Can I free myself from another’s bad choices, refusing to hang onto grudges, hate, and bitterness? Am I willing to no longer hold negativity toward the other, but instead actually pray for their happiness and healing? In other words, can I engage in the difficult and emotional process that eventually leads to forgiveness, whether or not the other person ever asks for it?
Suddenly, abiding intimate connection is not so easy. In fact, sometimes I’m not sure I want to be part of that vine. I hug my hurt and anger to my chest too tightly. The demands are too great.
Yet if I refuse the call to love, I punish the wrong person. I cut myself off from the vine, from the Source of all mercy and grace. Instead of choosing love, I choose to remain bitter, narrow, angry, and alone. Is that what I want?
Therein lies the challenge. As I look at the hurts in my life, as I determine the kind of person I want to be, as I consider the formidable example of Christ, what do I choose?
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.amyflorian.com/.