February 20: The 1,000 Little Hurts (7 C)

“Jesus said to his disciples: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Luke 6: 27-38

We listen to Luke’s gospel, continuing last week’s passage. In it is contained perhaps the single most powerful statement of Jesus in the New Testament, namely “Love your enemies.”

Luke’s rendering of this great teaching is more challenging than Matthew’s account. Luke confronts his readers with love for enemies, doing good, and the golden rule, “do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Please take note that in our first reading from Samuel, David has reverence for Saul, the anointed King, and spares him harm despite his rival’s faults. Deep within the Jewish religious culture, Jesus sees this powerful example of how mercy can bring healing and purpose.

What are the thousand little hurts that can add to the violence, cause revenge and bring the human family to spiritual harm? What must we do to harness the power of love? Are Jesus’s ideas even possible?

We must see the world and people’s lives differently to answer these questions. That’s the starter!

Let me draw on two writers and their insights for help, Yu Hua and Thomas Merton.

This semester, I’m taking a course at Stanford on the history of modern China. What an amazing account of a diverse people and the formation of the People’s Republic. While the required reading list has a significant text of some 800 pages, it’s the smaller books of fiction, poetry, and journalism that have sparked my interest and insight.

One of the books is “China in Ten Words,” by Yu Hua, published in the United States in 2011. Yu is a novelist; however, he explains China in ten words or metaphors with a clear eye view and personal memoir in this collection of essays.

He writes about his first job in 1978 as a dentist in South China in the opening pages. His task was to pull teeth. However, as the youngest member of the staff, he had to administer vaccinations to workers in the town’s factories and children in kindergartens and schools.

He explains that while there was a solid public health network and free immunization, medical instruments were in short supply. It was a time when there were no disposable needles or plastic syringes as we have become accustomed to.

So these special medical tools had to be reused repeatedly and, of course, required sterilization. Yu writes: “The needles and syringes would be washed, wrapped separately in gauze, placed in aluminum lunch boxes laid in a large wok on the top of a briquette stove. Water was added to the wok. The needles and syringes were then steamed for two hours, as you would steam buns.”

As Yu began his rounds of visits to factories and schools, he noticed the apparent difference in his patients. As the workers rolled up their sleeves, these imperfect needles and syringes tore up tiny pieces of skin with some minor pain. When he came to the kindergartens with children as young as three to six, the barbed tips of these same needles caused great pain and havoc. He writes: “Every one of these youngsters burst out weeping and wailing, because their skin was so tender, … and their wounds bled more profusely.”

He adds: “The pain that the children saw others suffering…affected them even more intensely than the pain they experienced because it made their fear all the more acute.”

Yu was guilt-struck by this early incident. So much so, to address the problem, he set about sharpening each of the needles. He ground with a grindstone until they were completely straight and the points were sharp.

The writer finishes: “This remorse left a profound mark, and it has stayed with me through all my years as an author. When the suffering of others becomes part of my own experience, I truly know what it is to live and what it is to write. Nothing in the world, perhaps, is so likely to forge a connection between people and pain because the connection that comes from that source comes from deep in the heart.”

So these thousand little hurts that inflict pain, most especially on children, can leave an effect on us. After all, we’re human, and what we witness and what we do with this insight can be life-changing and affirming.

Luke’s gospel tells us to love our enemies, even those that cause us pain. To accomplish this task, we must choose love, and in doing this, we may turn our pain into reconciliation and mercy.

In his unmistakable voice, Thomas Merton, the American monk, an author like Yu, was always concerned that we might misuse or manipulate the gospel for our ends in our culture.

He adds insight into how the power of love can transform our lives. Merton writes:

“The law of love is not a sentimental consolation. Rather it is a command to commit ourselves to use this deep power in us. It is a command to rise above natural instinct (instincts of retaliation or revenge) to use love as a force freely and deliberately, instead of permitting ourselves to be led by it and carried away by it blindly.” (“Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, Doubleday, 1965, pp.121-122)

What are the thousand little hurts that can add to the violence, cause revenge and bring the human family to spiritual harm? What must we do to harness the power of love? Are Jesus’s ideas even possible?

Love is not a blunt instrument, but of such precious value, it must be sharpened and directed to those in need, and especially children, to give hope, well-being, and long years of good health and, above all, peace.

Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.


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