I’ve been thinking a lot about Jesus this week… what He went through emotionally during this week leading up to His crucifixion isn’t something a lot of people talk about, but it has been running through my mind and heart constantly as I go about my regular daily business.
Jesus knew He was going to be betrayed by a close friend. He knew His closest followers were going to run and hide as He was suffering the worst a human being could suffer. He knew He was in for extreme physical pain and words of hatred spewed at Him from all angles. He knew all this and He still made His last moments about Love.
I don’t know about you, but if I knew all these things were about to happen to me, I would be building up a pretty big resentment in my heart. I would be figuring out ways to get back at anyone who crossed me – or living in self-pity and self-absorption, wondering how God could put me through all this. What Jesus did in the week leading up to and in the moments just before His death was show me how to continue loving, even when – and most importantly when – it seems that the entire world is out to get me.
One of the last messages Jesus shared with his closest disciples was that they were to love each other. He showed them how to do this by symbolically washing their feet and then He clearly stated it during His last meal with them: “This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15:17, NIV) He knew they were about to abandon Him and yet He still treated them with Love. And, one of the last things Jesus prayed before He died was for the people who had beaten and tortured Him, driven nails into his hands and feet, and were standing below His cross, mocking Him and laughing at Him as they watched Him die: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34, NIV)
All of this reminds me of something a close friend once told me when I was struggling with someone close to me and his behaviors associated with addiction. She told me that I needed to love him when he was most unlovable, because that is when he needs my love the most. This is one of the most difficult pieces of advice I have ever had to hear – and by far, the most rewarding. There has never been anything more challenging than to love a person who was lashing out at me in anger that I did not cause. I have had to pray for the willingness, the strength, and the removal of my own need to be the center of the relationship. I have had to swallow the sharp words that I wanted to retaliate with so that I could show my love through unconditional acceptance. I have had to pray the prayer, “Bless him, change me” over and over and over again. It was – and is – never easy, but it has always been worth every ounce of energy it takes!
For me, the reward of loving others when they are most unlovable is in the strength it brings to my relationship with Jesus. When I love as He loved, I feel closer to Him. And, even when I mess up and let a sharp retort escape my lips, the closeness I have with Him gives me the desire and the courage to ask for forgiveness. This isn’t something that is easy to explain to others. It is one of those things that I have experienced over a long period of time on my path as a Christ follower. But what I can share without a doubt is this: my relationship with Jesus has changed my heart. Accepting His love for me has filled my heart with a Power that I did not believe was real before I really knew Him. And for this, I am – and will be – forever grateful.