Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.1 Peter 4:8-10 (NRSV)
I’ve been thinking a lot lately, about what it means to have faith. Because I think sometimes, people think that saying that they have faith or knowing a few words of scripture or connecting themselves to a certain church or synagogue or house of worship is enough. But the truth is, faith is much more than that. It’s the way we live, the way we look at the world around us, the way that we understand that we are part of something much bigger than ourselves. And most importantly, it’s the way we treat ourselves and others.
When I was young, I thought that faith was about saying the right words and knowing the right answers. But now I know that really, rather than saying or knowing something, faith is about showing something more. It’s about learning to show love and compassion in whatever situation we find ourselves in.
I wonder, do you ever feel like people just aren’t nice to each other anymore? Doesn’t it seem like recently everyone is fighting or arguing about something? They’re taking hard and fast stands politically and socially. They constantly look for faults in one another. They are quick to judge anyone who is different than them, and if something goes wrong, they look for the closest person to blame. What has happened to our society?
Well, if you think that is something new, try reading the Bible. The Bible is filled with stories: stories of individuals, families, relationships, community events, rules, laws, histories, wars, experiences, feelings, choices, and adventures. And while the Bible ultimately teaches us to love God and our neighbor, it also introduces us to real people in real situations.
I had to laugh this week. I read two separate stories–one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament–and they both sounded like they could have happened yesterday. The first one came from the Old Testament: the story of Adam and Eve actually. Listen to this. The man said, “It’s the fault of the woman you put here with me. She gave me some fruit from the tree. And I ate it.” In just the first few pages, we find people turning the blame on one another. “It wasn’t me God, it was her!”
And then in the New Testament, there is a story about Jesus healing a paralyzed man. For thirty-eight years, the man had been ill, and day after day he sat by a special pool. You see, it was believed that when the underground spring began to bubble, the pool had healing powers. The problem was the man did not have the strength to get into the pool fast enough to be healed. One day, Jesus saw the man and asked him, “Do you want to be made well?” Of course, the man said “yes,” and Jesus’ response was, “Then pick up your mat and walk.” The man followed Jesus’ instruction; he picked up his mat and walked! Something he had been unable to do for over thirty-eight years!
What an amazing story, and what a celebration! And yet immediately, the man was stopped by another, saying “It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” Did he not see what had just happened? After years and years, the man had been healed. How could he be so callous?
Friends, what is missing from both of these stories is empathy, or the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It is taking the time to look beyond the situation you’re in, to understand, to show compassion, and to love the other person unconditionally. And the good news, my friends, is that our faith teaches us how to do that.
Now let me be clear, I am not blaming Adam for his statement or the man for upholding the sabbath law, but when we truly have faith, we begin to understand more than what we see right in front of us. We learn to respond with empathy and compassion, and our hearts and minds are opened to see our brothers and sisters in a whole new way.
I heard a quote from Tick Nat Han a few weeks ago that I just can’t let go of. It basically said, “When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have problems with our friends or family, we quickly blame the other person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like the lettuce. Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and argument. That is my experience. No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change”
Friends, when we truly live lives of faith, we are not called to judge or to blame others, but on the contrary, we are called to open the eyes of our hearts, to truly understand, and to show that we understand by sharing empathy, compassion, and love. And honestly, I think that is exactly what our world needs right about now.