“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
I’m a huge fan of the writer Elmore Leonard and the tv show based upon his stories, Justified. It wrapped up its run a few years ago, but is available through online streaming services. I think the storylines, moral ambiguity of the characters, and Kentucky setting make it compelling and entertaining television.
The show kept much of Elmore Leonard’s writing style. Astute, witty dialogue we secretly hope we might remember to use in the appropriate real-life situation fills the show. One of my favorite life observations comes when the main character Raylan Givens says the following to another character complaining about how he’s constantly being persecuted (edited for content, because the content is a bit colorful):
Ever heard the saying, “If you run into an (jerk) in the morning, you ran into an (jerk). If you run into (jerks) all day, you’re the (jerk)?”
We don’t actually care to admit we all can be jerks. We can behave in ways causing other people sorrow and pain. We say words that disregard and demean others as individuals and as groups. We hold fast to beliefs that continue oppression and allow suffering. We take up too much power and privilege, reducing other children of God to the leftovers. We don’t like when we run into a jerk, and realize the jerk is us.
If we are living in community with others who speak the truth in love, we will be called out on those behaviors, actions, words, and beliefs. And we may not even be aware our words and actions are causing pain.
So here’s where the Elmore Leonard insight meets the Gospel: when our actions, words, behavior, and beliefs that cause exclusion, pain, and degredation to others are brought to our attention, we do not get to wave this teaching of Jesus around, claiming persecution. We do not get to denounce the person speaking her/his truth as a jerk while wrapping ourselves in the words of Jesus as if they were a permissive shield to be a jerk.
We, in essence, do not get to use Jesus to justify being jerks.
Jesus salves the souls of those who are hated, excluded, reviled, and defamed on account of Jesus, not on account of their own prejudices and issues. Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is fond of saying, “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.” So if our behavior is not about love, is not about opening wide the doors of life and the church and the faith to all, we might be running into jerks all day long and ignoring the fact that we, indeed, have become the jerk.
So when we run into the jerk sides of ourselves, the aspects of ourselves who reduce people to their worst decisions, who exclude people because they haven’t lived up to our expectations, or who disown children of God because their beliefs aren’t exactly like ours, God implores us to look into that space and allow God to refocus our narrow vision with inclusive love. When we face the parts of ourselves and our institutions that resist giving up power and privilege for the benefit of others, we need to avoid calling the other person who is holding up the mirror a jerk or attacking them in other personal ways and see we (and our institutions) are far from perfect and are always in need of growth and transformation.
We all fall short of the glory of God. We all have aspects of our selves and souls God yearns to expose to love and grace, expanding our capacity to love our neighbors and scattering hate. While owning these aspects of ourselves may be (and is) a painful process, God loves us in this process. God love us, jerks and all.
Rejoice when we realize our actions cause pain and harm to others, for this is an opportunity for God’s love to lead us to awareness, inviting us to turn from hate to the joy of God’s transformative love.
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.