In an effort to learn how to love people well, I am once again reading through the Gospels, paying close attention to how Jesus loved people in various settings, in various situations. The last couple of days I have been rereading the crucifixion of our Lord. In the hours leading up to his being hung on the cross, Jesus has been cruelly beaten, mocked, angry people spitting in His face.
Now, Jesus is hanging on the cross in agony, robbers hanging on either side of him in their own worlds of pain. In Matthew’s account, we see both of the convicts joining in with the chief priests, scribes, and elders in hurling abuse at Jesus. From Luke’s account we see one of the cons changes his tune midstream, his words tumbling out through gasps of pain and suffocating agony;
“Dude we need to stop insulting this man. We’re guilty.” Gasping, clawing in another breath; “We’re getting what we deserve, but, this guy, this guy is innocent.”
Then, painfully shifting his gaze towards Jesus; “Lord remember me when You come in Your kingdom.”
Crazy grace the response from Jesus. To a man who a few hours or a few minutes before was insulting him, Jesus gives the criminal, not what he deserves, Jesus gives the guilty con what none of us deserve;
“Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
Who does that? Who turns the other cheek so quickly in the midst of his own intense pain and suffering? Who blesses the one who spits in his face? That is definitely not my first impulse when someone cuts me off in traffic or when the drunk homeless man screams obscenities in my face with the explosive release of pent up rage, drops of spittle showering my face.
Nope. Grace is not my first impulse. Not my second. Not even my third.
My best guess is Jesus knew the criminal was lashing out from a place of pain and fear. I get that. That, I can understand. Unless they are sociopathic, people do not lash out at others because their life is going perfectly.
People usually make hurtful choices because they are hurting. Jesus knew this and responded to the person’s brokenness and pain.
My prayer is that I can see and respond like Jesus. It is so challenging to look beyond a person’s behavior when their spit is landing on your face. But all I know is the more we allow the grace of Jesus to flow through our lives the more good things happen. All I know is the guy who spit in my face in a drunken rage four years ago is now clean and sober for three years. The last time he was clean that long was over 40 years ago.
Today my friend is not quite in Paradise yet but he is ‘clothed and in his right mind.’ He is safe and working and is loving and letting himself be loved – all things that had been absent in his life for over four decades.
The grace of Jesus is the most powerful force in the universe.
By Cash Lowe
Organizational Chaplain, Shepherd’s House Ministries