“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.” -Luke 6:22-23
Could you sit in their places?
Could you maintain the peace and dignity they maintained while those around you taunted you, defamed you, hated you, and poured ketchup, mustard, and salt on your head?
Could you pray for them as they did these things?
Of all the images of the Civil Rights Movement that serve as icons for a Christ-like faith, this is one that never ceases to humble me and challenge me in love. The image is from the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Jackson, Mississippi taken on May 28, 1963. College demonstrators participated in a sit-in to integrate the whites-only lunch counter in Mississippi’s capital city. John Salter, a Tougaloo College professor, sits with Joan Trumpauer and Anne Moody as white high-school students revile and hate them.
Anne Moody and another friend begin praying as they were subjected to actions of hate on account of inclusive love. A white man, hearing Anne praying for those who were persecuting her, slapped her face.
Could you continue to pray?
Jesus reminds us that when we are hated, excluded, reviled, and defamed on his account, we don’t get to stop loving. We don’t get to hand them back the same denigrating behavior they’ve poured on our heads. We don’t get to exclude them from God’s love.
We are to respond in love.
This doesn’t mean we are doormats. If someone is engaging in abusive behavior and if someone is violating our boundaries, we don’t simply endure the abuse. We can speak the truth in love and create distance, if needed, to keep ourselves safe. If we witness another harming someone by abuse, degradation, or exclusion, our Christian faith demands we are not complicit in the abuse by remaining silent.
We are to act in love.
But let’s be honest, that’s a tall order from Jesus. How much easier is it to respond to those who have wounded us by delivering our own punches to their guts? How much easier is it, when we are defamed by another, to spread our own rumors? How much easier is it, when we have been hurt by all that is the complexities of human relationships, to exclude them from our lives instead of seek reconciliation?
How much easier is it to pray for the victims of a crime and keep silent before God with the name of the criminal? How much easier is it, when we see children of God excluded and defamed, to shrug our shoulders and offer our thoughts and prayers rather than subject ourselves to the same treatment?
Jesus knows our base reaction is easier.
And he still calls us to love.
For three hours, these children of God sat at this counter, enduring and praying for righteousness’ sake. They prayed. They sat. They persisted. Woolworth’s finally closed the store.
For three hours, Jesus hung on the cross. He endured and prayed for righteousness’ sake. He died, and they finally closed the tomb.
We know the ends of both stories. Love did and does win. But the struggle for Civil Rights and love still persists. We are still called to endure, to pray, to demand justice and work for righteousness.
When the time comes when we are hated, excluded, reviled, and defamed because we are following the teachings of Christ, and believe me, it will come, remember this particular trinity of courageous love sitting at a lunch counter in Mississippi.
Can we do what they did?
Maybe the most honest answer is, “We don’t know.”
Maybe our responses to the wrongs and offenses that are more minor that something like this give us some insight into how we would respond. Next time we are troubled by someone’s actions or response to us, we can consciously choose to act in love instead of embrace revenge.
And then we pray that when the time comes when we encounter resistance because of the Son of Man, we remember his response, their response, and go and do likewise.
The Rev. Laurie Brock is this week’s writer. She serves as the rector of St. Michael the Archangel Episcopal Church in Lexington, Kentucky where she can cheer for the Alabama Crimson Tide in football and the Kentucky Wildcats in basketball. She blogs at DirtySexyMinistry.com, tweets at @drtysxyministry, and is the author of an upcoming book on the spirituality of horses from Paraclete Press. She has co-authored and contributed to many books about women and faith. When she’s not doing priest things, she is letting her horse Nina (The Official Lent Madness Horse) teach her about patience and peace.