Capable of a Radical Love

More harm is incurred by people who take offense than by people who give offense. Perhaps too often we concentrate on the evil-doers, the perpetrators, the “offenders” as the ones who are the cause of all the problems in the world. And for sure there are some bad hombres out there whom I may have to watch out for. But maybe it is about time we started to look at the greater harm that is incurred by people who take offense, who hold onto the hurts of the past, and who refuse to believe in the power of redemption. So much energy is spent on nursing past hurts, vilifying the offender and maintaining a list of wrongs that justifies why I feel the way I do about certain people. That energy is supremely self-destructive, and so, more harm is incurred by people who take offense than by people who give offense.

The most challenging words of Jesus in his public ministry are the ones that are recorded in today’s gospel: “Love your enemy, pray for your persecutor, offer no resistance to one who is evil, turn the other cheek.” I can imagine the feeling of disbelief that must have overcome the hearts of the listeners to this very first sermon that Jesus preached, now concluded with the most impossible demand, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Perhaps those followers just shook their heads and said, “Well, that ain’t going to happen!”

The question comes down to this: am I capable of a radical love? Now before you answer the question, just think of the ways you have loved radically – when you have made great sacrifices and were looking for nothing in return, when you gave totally of yourself in response to a situation which others may have ignored, when you showed a heroic generosity that went above and beyond the call of duty. Yes, you are capable of radical love because you are made in the image and likeness of God who is love. So, being “perfect in love” the way your Father is perfect in His love is not as outrageous as it first may seem.

So what gets in the way of radical love? In the moments when I “take offense,” I have put up a roadblock to what is most natural in me. We think that the desire for revenge (an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth) is natural. We think that hating the enemy is natural. However, revenge and hatred are the most unnatural things about human nature. We are literally wired to love in a radical way for it is that moment we find our deepest joy in life.

To say that more harm is incurred by people who take offense, we realize that we become the victims of our own revengeful plotting by allowing our souls to be marinated in the loathing of another. We are not truly ourselves in those moments of unloving. Maybe on those occasions when we become obsessed with the hurt that was delivered to us and we find ourselves steaming in our own misery, we might be able to hear the gentle whisper of Jesus say to us, “I know you are so much better than that.”

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