Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of Novrmber 3, 2003
Try to go beyond giving back in kind
By FR. RON ROLHEISER, omi
Growing resentful or manipulative while serving others is a perennial danger.
Indeed the litmus test for Christian orthodoxy is not the creed (Can you believe this set of truths?) but this particular challenge from Jesus: Can you love an enemy? Can you not give back in kind? Can you rise above your sense of being wronged? Can you renounce your need to be right? Can you move beyond the itch to always have what's due you? Can you forgive, even when every feeling inside of you rebels at its unfairness? Can you take in bitterness, curses, hatred, and murder itself, and give back graciousness, blessing, love, understanding, and forgiveness?
That's the root invitation inside of Christianity and it's only when we do this that we move beyond "an eye for an eye." Admittedly, this isn't easy, either in theory or in practice. Much inside of conventional wisdom, pop psychology and contemporary spirituality will object to the very theory of it, pointing out that carrying tension isn't healthy for us, telling us that we have a duty not to enable abusive behaviour, and challenging us not to be doormats and victims, but mature persons who claim the legitimate space that's needed in order to be free, giving persons, responsible to God, others and self.
All of these objections are right, of course, though none of them negate Jesus' challenge. His invitation, cleansed from overly simplistic interpretation, remains: Don't be a victim or a doormat or an enabler of abusive behaviour, but do consider, willingly and without resentment, laying down your life for others by living this more sublime challenge.
And it's exactly on this point, to do this willingly and without resentment, that its practice grows difficult. It's not easy to do this and not grow resentful and manipulative. More commonly, we carry others' crosses - but end up being bitter about it and sending them the bill. The scribes and Pharisees had this down to a fine art. That too was part of their virtue. Growing resentful or manipulative while serving others is a perennial danger, though, as Goethe says: "The dangers of life are many and safety is one of them."
And so the invitation of Jesus to what's higher, more sublime, more noble, remains; as does the gentle, understanding, faithful, non-threatening, non-coercive, non guilt-inducing, but persistent and uncompromising, presence of God.
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