Pray without ceasing on behalf of everyone. For in them there is hope of repentance so that they may attain to God. Permit them, then, to be instructed by your works, if in no other way. Be meek in response to their wrath, humble in opposition to their boasting; to their blasphemies return your prayers; in contrast to their error be steadfast in the faith; and for their cruelty display your gentleness. While we take care not to imitate their conduct, let us be found their brothers in all true kindness.
~Ignatius of Antioch, A.D. 50 – 117 (Letter to the Ephesians 10)
I have continued to ponder this closing quote from my talk about redefining the goal of spiritual conversations. Ignatius of Antioch was a disciple of the Apostle John, and was the 2nd (or third) Bishop of Antioch when the church was centered there. Ignatius was martyred in the Colosseum in Rome and as you can see by the painting, it was a gruesome death. Under the tutelage of John, the heartbeat of Jesus was a thin veil away and is easily encountered as you read his words and meditate on his willingness to die for his faith.
The responses of Jesus towards His accusers and executioners is hovering close to the surface of this statement…
The commands and interactions of the rabbi, that we so easily dismiss as possible for Him because He was God, seem to become enfleshed in Ignatius’ words leaving us no room for escape but plenty of room to squirm.
Broken down, each thought is completely others-centered, a sort of self-amnesia that majors on compassion unattached to self-need or self-promotion.
1. Praying all the time for everyone.
2. Your prayers can help those who are far away from God move towards Him because there is hope for everyone to turn towards God.
3. Preach to people by serving them, doing good, demonstrating compassion and godly service.
4. Control yourself when others unleash their anger on you.
5. Seek the higher road of humility when others fill the air with self-promotion.
6. Pray for others when they accuse, belittle, condemn or slander you.
7. Stay committed to what is true when others fall for all the false and empty philosophies of the world.
8. Be gentle when others are merciless.
9. Don’t imitate their path, but love them on their journey regardless of where they are at… exhibiting kindness and brotherliness.
These are powerful thoughts…
In fact, these thoughts are alarming because they promise pain and suffering without recourse, justification or a necessary happy ending. Instead, they offer us invitation into the sufferings of Christ, where our soul will be forged in ways that we don’t want, can’t handle, and will probably try to escape from.
Trust is the only response that will work. But trust is not something that can be conjured up like a late-night snack or story to cover your tracks, no, trust is something birthed between the worlds of chaos and confusion in that thin space where the voice of God speaks to the follower of Jesus who is forever doubting, struggling, running, ducking and hiding from the Voice of Love.
Trust says, “not my will but yours be done.” Trust cries “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Trust sighs, “I believe, help my unbelief.”
This desolate place is where Jesus rescues the bedraggled among us. The ones who have no option other than God. The ones who know their default system-setting is to try to create their own trust, build their own reality, convince themselves and others that they are someone they are not, and then wake up sweating in the night knowing the false world they have created is a silly sham that the Big-Bad-Wolf could easily huff, puff and blow down.
These are the ones Jesus came for. Brute honesty has a way of surfacing when we sit among the displaced straw, and God always responds to our honesty by increasing our faith which intensifies our hope that welds handles onto trust so that we can grasp it firmly. This is the great trial of the soul. Will I believe and hold onto the truth that God loves me even at my worst? Will I define myself, not by my mistakes and blunders, but rather as one unconditionally loved by the God who created black holes, raging seas, distant galaxies and human DNA?
The presence of Trinity dwelling within us by faith is not myth, idiocy, theological gymnastics, a last-ditch hail-mary nor the conjecture of weak-willed people. Jesus brings about God’s presence within us which is the most real part of me, the only solid ground in a world full of shadows.
So while I might want to run away, hide, pretend or shrink into the shadows, the gift of trust, born from the love between the Father and the Son revealed on the cross of Calvary, will rise laying ahold of me even as I lay ahold of it.
And all of it is a gift…
All of it is grace…
All of it is divine love…
Trust removes our fear of God and our fear of ourselves. He smiles as we approach Him with all our broken pieces because He knows we have finally allowed ourselves to be loved just as we are not the way we think we should be…
Here, in this sacred space, we choose to go beyond the extra mile extending to others the very same grace and acceptance we have received from God. We offer it willingly, sacrificially, and fearlessly because we finally know that God is good, even when the path is dark.
Father, help me trust.