Disciples are called to love even tyrants and those who are the least like Jesus
Living the Word / By Tim Irwin
Fourth Sunday of Easter/May 8
Acts 13:14,43-52; Psalm 100:1-2,3,5; Revelation 7:9,14b-17; John 10:27-30
This week’s very succinct Gospel from St. John offers a helpful insight into discipleship. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”
Jesus’s voice invites us to commit ourselves to the good of others for the sake of others. In other words, Jesus invites us to love them. We love others when we recognize that they are persons, made in the image of God. When we act with compassion toward others, we follow the Good Shepherd who invites us to reveal the Kingdom of God by being our better more Christ-like self today and our best most Christ-like self in eternity. When we are other-centered, we have relationships of love and acceptance. We forgive and seek forgiveness. We are kind and big-hearted.
Jesus reminds us in this week’s Gospel that no one can take us out of his or his Father’s hand, try as they might. Thus, to stay in the Lord’s hands, we should avoid being ego-centered. When we are ego-centered we fail to recognize that others are persons made in God’s image. When we act with indifference or cruelty toward others, we fail to follow the Good Shepherd. When we are ego-centered, we have relationships of domination and resignation. We neither forgive nor seek forgiveness. We are petty and inconsiderate.
WHO ARE WE TO LOVE?
The tyrant who mercilessly rains terror on the innocent in order to aggrandize his ego is hoping to pluck us from the hand of Jesus. Witnessing cruelty may prompt one to lose faith in Jesus fulfilling the tyrant’s desire, because the true tyrant wants us to believe that he is God. To counter this, we need to listen ever more intently to the voice of the Good Shepherd.
I believe I heard his voice watching “CBS Sunday Morning” on March 6. A report from Ukraine showed a man weeping over the body of his 16-year-old son, who had been killed during a Russian attack. But for the grace of God, I could have been that parent mourning the violent and senseless end to my child’s life.
My experience is by no means unique. Jesus speaks to all of us, regardless of our religious persuasion or the depth of our faith in a voice not in any way foreign to our experience. The Risen Christ, like the leaven in bread, moves through the storm of life inviting us to love his Father as he does with our whole heart, mind, soul, and self and others as he loves them.
That easily translates into compassion for the victims of the tyrant, but Jesus also calls us to love the tyrant; to will the good of the tyrant, an invitation I find particularly difficult to accept these days. I’ve been praying that the tyrant be afforded the opportunity to meet Jesus, up close and personal, and the sooner the better. Do you feel the same? In a sense, that is an ego-centered response because it’s the consequence of seeing ourselves as his victims.
Maybe this Sunday, we could pray for the tyrant’s conversion. Because it sounds counterintuitive we can rest assured it’s what we are being called to do. Perhaps discipleship is best described as the struggle to love those who are the least like Jesus.
Tim Irwin teaches theology and philosophy at Notre Dame High School in Peoria. He is a member of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Morton.