“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?” It is easy to hear this question harshly. It is easy for me to imagine Jesus asking this, vexed, frustrated, indignant, angry, at his wit’s end. And that’s a challenge. If Jesus really came into the world to save sinners,1 to show the utmost patience and mercy,2 to be our most steadfast friend and companion3…where are those qualities in this question?
Perhaps it might be helpful to engage in some self-reflection. How do I feel when I’ve experienced conflict with friends? When I’ve hurt a loved one, I may get defensive. I may conjure up offenses, real or imagined, that that friend has committed against me. I may feel the need to deflect responsibility, or engage in a perverse game of score-keeping; somehow, in these moments when I finish tallying the friendship score, I always seem to come out ahead. These feelings and behaviors, though, do not get at the heart of the issue. What really worries me when I’ve hurt a loved one is that I’ve created an irreparable breach, an eternally broken communion. It is a profoundly uncomfortable experience; I feel lonely, claustrophobic, anxious, and weary.
Or, let’s turn it around. How do I react when a friend hurts me? I can feel indignant. I may start examining every past and subsequent interaction, looking for further evidence of betrayal. I may nurse feelings of ill-will without constructively engaging with them, preferring to let them fester in the darkness. These, too, are distractions. They also don’t get at the heart of the issue. The real fear, the real motivating concern I have when a friend hurts me is that I’ve lost that friend. The irreparable breach, the eternally broken communion.
Spite, anger, indignation, pettiness, fear…these are not the hallmarks of friendship lived out to its fullest. These are not the hallmarks of the love to which we are called. I suspect (or, at least, I hope) I’m not alone in feeling some of these things during conflict with loved ones. But it makes me think that my initial reading of today’s Gospel lesson might have involved a little too much projection on my part. I may feel harshness, frustration, and resentment in these situations of conflict, but Jesus is a much, much better friend than I am.
We might expect a perfectly patient Jesus, a perfectly understanding, empathetic, forgiving, loving Jesus, not to confront us with our faults. Being confronted like that is uncomfortable. But there isn’t love in refusing to share your pain. Sharing your pain with the one who caused it is risky. It’s vulnerable, at a point where you’re already feeling quite hurt. It opens you up to dismissal, rejection, mockery, and all other sorts of further pain. It requires a deep trust.
But the risk is not in vain. To bring your pains, your bumps and your bruises, to the one who has caused you these pains is to say, “I want to repair this breach. I want to restore our communion. I want to pick you up after you’ve fallen. I want to forgive you. I want to love you more deeply. I want to be your friend.” To offer this, with gentleness, with meekness, to a loved one who has hurt you, is to begin the process of reconciliation. It is the balm on the wound. It might be uncomfortable, even painful at first, but it is invaluable to the healing of our brokenness.
Christ’s question now sounds quite differently to me than it did before. “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?” I don’t know. I don’t know why, in my human frailty and weakness, I so frequently falter. But I will keep saying, “Lord, Lord,” and seeking forgiveness when I stray from the path. I will keep trying, rejecting fear and trusting in you, because, Christ, you are my friend, and I love you.
1. 1 Timothy 1:15
2. 1 Timothy 1:16
3. John 15:15
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