(Written for Maundy Thursday)
A few years ago, a best friend of mine named Brittany finally found a job at a university in Texas. I say finally because she had been looking for over two years. We were both sad she was moving far away, but we were very close so we promised to keep in touch with each other. Not long after she left I started going through a difficult time, so of course I called on my best friend Brittany. I wanted to see how she was doing and I also wanted to tell her what was going on with me. But Brittany didn’t call me back. I left like six messages! Eventually, I left her a nasty voicemail telling her she wasn’t being a very good friend at all. I had no idea why she wasn’t calling me back. I started to think she didn’t care about me. I wondered if I had done something wrong.
One of the hardest things about fulfilling Jesus’ command to love one another is that its difficult to love others when our feelings get hurt. When we feel like we’ve been mistreated, misunderstood, neglected, ignored, it’s hard to open ourselves up and be vulnerable, giving, and loving. When our feelings get hurt, that’s when we either want to retreat and hide or when we lash out in anger, attacking.
The nasty voicemail I sent Brittany was me lashing out in hurt and anger. Then, I retreated. I stopped calling her.
The problem is, Jesus command to love is not a conditional statement. He does not say, only love others when they are being good to you. He does not say, only love others when you are in the mood to be loving. Jesus says, “love one another. As I have loved you, love one another.”
We know from the stories in the Bible that Jesus offered love to strangers on the street and to those rejected and despised by society. He offered love to his friends, even when they betrayed him, even when they denounced him. (Our church just put on a production called , In the Shadow of the Cross, and in the last scene, which takes place after the crusifxtion, Peter feels so guilty and horrible about denying Jesus in Pilates’ courtyard. He tells this to Mary Magdalene nad Mary, Jesus’ mother. Both of them assure Peter that Jesus would not hold this failure on Peter’s part against him. The woman assure Peter that Jesus would forgive and love Peter even though he wasn’t perfect, and even though he had abandoned Jesus in his hour of need. God loves us no matter what, whether we fail him or sin or whatever.
On this night as we receive the mandatum novum, the new command to love one another, I am asking you to reflect on how well you are able to remain loving, especially to those closest to you, when your feelings have been hurt, when you are feeling defensive.
I’d like to tell you a story:
A young man went off to war, leaving his pregnant wife behind. Two years later, he was able to return home, and the young woman went with their young son to meet her husband. They cried together out of joy. They decided to celebrate by having a fancy, family dinner together. The wife went to the store to buy what was needed for dinner while the husband remained at home with his son.
During this time, the young father was trying to convince his child to call him Daddy. The little boy refused: “Mister, you’re not my daddy. My daddy is somebody else. He visits us every night and my mommy talks to him every night, and very often she cries with him. And every time my mommy sits down, he sits down too. Every time she lies down, he lies down too.” After he heard these words, the young father’s happiness entirely evaporated. His heart turned into a block of ice. He felt hurt, deeply humiliated, and that is why, when his wife came home, he would no longer look at her or speak a word to her. Anger flared within him, and a profound sadness as well. He didn’t know what to do, so he ignored her. The woman herself began to suffer; she felt humiliated, hurt. Why was her husband doing this? What had changed? But neither said a word to each other.
She made the dinner in silence while he sat in the living room. When the family sat down to dinner, again no one spoke. After dinner, the husband went to the local bar. He tried to forget his suffering by getting drunk, and he did not come back to the house until very late at night. The following day, it was the same thing, and this went on for several days in a row. The young woman could not take it anymore. Her suffering was so great that she took her own life.
When the young father heard this news, he was very upset. He went and lit a large oil candle that he and his wife often lit when they would sit together in the living room. It was one of their favorite ways to spend a quiet evening together. Upon lighting the lantern, Suddenly the child cried out: “Mister, Mister, it’s my daddy, he’s come back!” And he pointed to the shadow of his father on the wall. “You know, Mister, my father comes every night. Mommy talks to him and sometimes she cries; and every time she sits down my daddy sits down too.” In reality, this woman had been alone in the house too much and so she would sit in this special spot, light a candle and “talk” to her husband, by talking to her shadow. She would day, “My dear one, you are so far away from me. How can I raise my child all by myself? ….You must come back home soon.” She would cry, and of course every time she sat down, the shadow would also sit down. When she would lie down, the shadow would also lie down.
When the husband realized the he had misunderstood the whole situation, his heart broke in two. All along she had been faithful to him, but in his own pain, in his own pride and defensiveness, he had not been able to talk to his wife about what was really going on. Now she was dead. It was too late. (adopted from Thich Nhat Hanh. True Love. Pg. 25-29).
This story is very dramatic, but miscommunications and misunderstandings of all sorts happen all the time, whether between husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, parent and child, friends, co-workers…
As a child I thought, as do most children, that when one of my parents yelled at me, that they didn’t love me, that I was bad or had done something wrong. Then I would go and hide or yell at my brother or sister or hit the cat. Children don’t understand that the parent could just be having a bad day.
The point I am trying to make is that we have to be very careful about shutting down and blaming others when we feel hurt. Oftentimes, our pain will lead to greater ruptures and more fighting within a relationship or family. But if we could just stop, and talk to each other. If we could tell each other that our feelings have been hurt and sit down with one another instead of withdrawing from each other or yelling at each other, we will save ourselves from so much pain and suffering.
If we could just tell each other what we need, we really will help love grow and fulfill the new commandment to love one another.
When Jesus was alive many people came to him asking for his help. If they needed something, they asked for it.
The leper came up to Jesus and say, “Lord, if you choose you can make me clean.” (Mat 8: 2). He was asking for help.
When the centurion’s servant was sick, the centurion appealed to Jesus, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.” (Mt 8: 6-7). He was asking for help.
A leader of the synagogue came to Jesus and said, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” (Mt 9: 18). He too was asking for help.
The list of people who asked Jesus for help goes on and on to this very moment. Whoever asks for help, he helps them.
Why don’t we do the same thing. If someone asks for help, let us help them. Also, when we need something, when we need help, why not ask for it from the people we love. There’s a line in a popular song now that says, “If you want more love, why don’t you say so.”
How can we love each better, more, like Jesus loved us? Let each other know when we need love and give that love to one another.
When my friend Brittany finally did call me back, I certainly didn’t feel like opening up to her about everything that was going on in my life nor did I want to hear what was going on in her life.
But then, she opened up to me and told me that the reason she hadn’t called back was because she was depressed. She felt very alone in Texas, far away from family and friends. Work was stressful; some of her colleauges were being mean and competitive. She told me that she hadn’t called me back because she had barely been able to get out of bed and do her job. She didn’t have the extra energy to reach out, even to her best friend.
Of course, as soon as I heard that, all the pain and anger and hard feelings towards her I had went out the window. What she essentially told me was that she needed love and understanding even more than I did.
Brothers and sisters, on this Maundy Thursday, I say to you what Jesus has said to us all: Love one another. One of the ways that we fulfill this most noble and high command is by telling each other when we need love. May we all learn how to ask for the love we need. May those in our lives be willing and able to give us the love that we need. And when someone asks you for love, may you have it to give.