I remember when I was young, my limited spiritual life revolved around worrying about whether or not I would go to heaven after I died. Even though I wasn’t too sure what heaven was like, I was scared to death of going to hell and wanted to avoid it at all costs. Fortunately, I came to learn (meaning this is what I was taught) that there were ways that I could manage this. If I could obey all of the rules – okay, most of the rules – and do a lot of extra devotional things like going to Confession, Mass and receiving Holy Communion on nine First Fridays of the month in a row, I would go straight to heaven. As a student in Catholic school, that was worked into the curriculum! This was gonna’ be easy.
And then I got older and slowly came to the realization that all the above was rather “quid pro quo” and almost seemed as though I could go before God and say, “Hey, I followed the rule, let me into heaven!”
But along the way we all come to the understanding that the kingdom of God was a whole more than my own personal experience of heaven. We were a community of faith. We are all in this together. There was more to the reign of God than my own personal salvation after my own personal death. Salvation included all the people around me who were suffering. The words of the spiritual writer Henri Nouwen offered a different paradigm: “love Jesus and love the way Jesus loved.” The nine First Fridays was a whole lot easier.
St. Paul told the Ephesians the same thing: “Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ. Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us.”
Jesus shows us all the same thing. On the way to Jerusalem, while Jesus is teaching in a synagogue, a “bent-over” woman passing by evokes Jesus’ compassion. Does the woman ask for healing? No. Does Jesus seem to care that it’s the Sabbath, when healing non-life-threatening conditions is not permitted? No. Without being asked, he calls her over to him, and sets her free from her longtime ailment by placing his hands on her. And the woman is blessed, and freed.
This week someone will come into each of our lives “bent over”. They won’t ask for healing. And maybe we can’t free them from their burden, but we can be kind, compassionate, forgiving, loving, and be a blessing for them.
Love Jesus and love the way Jesus loved.