The Death of St. Francis of Assisi
When he was elected, the Pope chose the name Francis after St. Francis of Assisi. Of course, St. Francis was known for his poverty, humility and simplicity, but perhaps more than this, the reason for his fame is because he reminded people of Jesus. There is a story that as St. Francis was nearing his death, he was surrounded by his brothers who prayed with him. Then after he died, the brothers in the room gathered around him saw angels coming to take St. Francis away. As the angels prepared, they looked up and Jesus looking down at the body. Then they saw Francis’ soul leave his body and go towards Jesus where he embraced him. After the embrace, the glory that filled Francis made it so that you could no longer tell the difference between him and Jesus, in appearance they became the same. And this reminded the brothers that as Francis was a living witness to Jesus during his life, now in Heaven, he too has taken on the appearance of Jesus.
The Key to the Gospel: To Love as Jesus Loved
For each of us, we are meant to be another Jesus, in our world, in our communities and in our homes. With this in mind listen again to the words of the Gospel today:
“I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
Jesus gives us a new commandment that we love on another. But the question still lingers, how are we supposed to love? What is it supposed to look like? And Jesus gives the answer, love ‘as I have loved you.’ Jesus shows us what love looks like. This is why it is so important for us Christians to know the Gospels because they tell us how Jesus loved and to know the teachings of Christ safeguarded by the Church because they guide us to authentic love. I would like to consider with you two stories from the Gospels that powerfully communicate some aspect of how Jesus loved to us.
Mirroring Back Violence – Turning the other Cheek
You have heard how it was said: Eye for eye and tooth for tooth. But I say this to you: offer no resistance to the wicked. On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well; if someone wishes to go to law with you to get your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone requires you to go one mile, go two miles with him. (Matt. 5:38-41)
On it’s surface, this teaching of turning the other cheek may seem weak, it might seem like giving in, but it’s not. Whenever we are confronted we have two choices: fight or flight. But neither of these are ideal. If we fight, we lose. Violence + violence = more violence. If we run, we risk affirming the person in their violence and tyranny. What Jesus proposes is a third option: to mirror back the violence back at the aggressor with hope of luring them in to a different moral or spiritual place.
Consider this, to hit someone, a Jew would only use their right hand, because the left was unclean. So if you were to hit my right cheek with your right hand, you could not do so by throwing a punch, it would have to be a backhanded slap, the kind of slap that a master would give to a slave, to someone inferior. By turning the other cheek, the person does not back down, they don’t give in, instead the strongly mirror back the violence and force the aggressor to think of them in a different way.
Here’s an example of what this looks like. Mother Teresa once took a starving little girl by the hand to the bakery to beg for food. Annoyed with her, the baker spat at her in the face. Her response shocked him and made him think of things differently. She said, “Now that you have given me a gift, how about something for the girl.”
Jesus and the woman caught in adultery, throw the first stone.
In another famous story, Jesus finds the Scribes and Pharisees ready to stone a woman caught in the act of adultery. This story reveals much about the love of Jesus.
First, Jesus love is unconditional. He makes an effort, like the loving father from the prodigal son, to reach out to us. There is nothing that we can do that would make him stop loving us.
Second, He offers real forgiveness and consolation. A psychologist can’t take away guilt, only God can. He says to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven,” but doesn’t end there. He also says, “Go and sin no more.” Sin does so much damage and Jesus wants to take us out of that environment, so that we can live a new kind of life.
Third, the love of Jesus is the most powerful force for good in this world. It seems likely that the woman whom Jesus saved from stoning was Mary Magdalen. That encounter with Jesus would forever change her life. When he looked at her, she felt important, valuable and loved. Whereas other men would use her and then toss her aside, Jesus’ love respected her and filled her heart. When Mary Magdalen experienced the love Jesus offered, she would never let go of it again because it was authentic, real and lasting.
As followers of Jesus, we are given a big challenge, to love as Jesus loved, to be another Jesus in this sometimes cruel and crazy world. Every time we hear the Gospels it would be good to question, “How does Jesus love and how can I love more like him?” The greatest thing that we could do to make the world a better place is to, like St. Francis and Mother Teresa, make ourselves more like Jesus.