Troubles often come to us unbidden. We are acquainted with this truth from experience. Some of these troubles are matters of accident, but others are matters of human sinfulness. We are not ignorant of prejudices, those directed toward us and those that sometimes drive our own decision making. These prejudicial decisions are made out of either a parochial intolerance of differences (of any kind), which is only laziness in disguise, or they are made out of irrational emotions like jealousy, fear, or hatred. In every case these prejudicial decisions and actions cause suffering and injury, from simple hurt feelings to injustices of monumental evil. And the fact is that all prejudices and hatreds are rooted in the foolishness of sin. The irony, of course, is that the hater always conceives of him or herself as righteous, even superior. In their self-righteousness they are capable of cruelties of every imaginable kind. Cain might have been the first example of this kind of human foolishness.
As Christians, we have been shown a different truth. We know that all human beings are children of God and, therefore, they are our brothers and sisters. If, though, people who call themselves Christian, foment injustices against others for any reason, they are nothing more than those foolish Pharisees of Jesus’ time. This is especially true if they condemn other Christians, simply because they are not of ʺtheirʺ Church or ʺtheirʺ denomination. This is an abomination of the worst imaginable kind. Because we are followers of the Master, Jesus Christ, we ought to be the one sure body in all of the earth that works faithfully and diligently toward the elimination of all such prejudices and their injustices. We ought to be doing that out of our love for Jesus, and out of obedience to his final commandment to us, ʺLove one another as I have loved you.ʺ (John 13:34) Jesus did not die just for Galileans, or just for Jews, he died for all of mankind.
Because we have been commanded to love in the world, which so often mis-understands that love, or mis-interprets it, or even hates it, we can become targets of hate, ridicule, intolerance and prejudice. Jesus knew this and he did not leave us alone, or unarmed. He has given his promise of grace. He has given us this grace to strengthen us when the going gets tough. He has given us his Spirit. And that spirit is not ʺa spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.ʺ And with these gifts of power, love, and self-control, we are to, ʺbear our share of hardships for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.ʺ It is with these gifts that we can put an end to our own prejudices and confront those that are directed against us with mercy and forgiveness, which are the only ‘forces’ that can truly defeat such things.
What is that power that he has given us? It has but one name: Grace. All that is good has its origin in God, the author of all that is good, true, and beautiful. Grace, and Grace alone, has the power to strengthen us to turn away from our own prejudices, or to face the prejudices and hatred of others ‘gracefully.’
Love is the nature of God, which he shares with us and calls us to share with others in our lives as Christians. ʺBeloved, let us love one another, because love is of God. Everyone who loves is begotten of God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.ʺ (1 John 4:7-8)
Self-control is something that comes after a long struggle in every one of our lives. It is a virtue. It is the product of continual and constant practice that finally becomes a habit in us. Self-control is the end result of conscious hard work involving many failings, followed by courageous self-reflection. It comes about by choosing more and more often to delay one’s immediate gratification temporarily, or forever, in recognition of the greater needs of a particular other, or others in general. It is the ability to deny one’s own desires, for the greater good. This is, in other words, the attainment of something called, maturity.
Christ is calling us always to this spiritual maturity. It is this spirit of courage, rooted in our faith in Jesus, and his grace, that empowers us to achieve that mature self-control. It is with this self-discipline that we can encounter, endure, and even overcome the prejudices, the vitriol, even the violence of those who hate us for our faith, with compassion and forgiveness. While we are to be as innocent as children, we are to live out our faith in this world as mature, adult believers and actors. It is this mature Christian faith that will make us better fathers and mothers, and better teachers for our children; that will make us true disciples of Jesus in the world. It is only this mature Christian faith that can confront hatred by challenging its foolishness with love and forgiveness. With this kind of mature faith we will surely be able to ʺbear our share of hardships for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.ʺ Amen.