The recent tragedy of Parkland will be indelibly etched in our minds for the rest of our lives. It happened too close to home, and the predictable reactions of many affected people have been displayed – sometimes unashamedly – in the press and on social media. Our hearts go out to the families that suffered these irreparable hurts, and we will continue to pray for them and the victims of this tragic massacre. They more than deserve this gesture of solidarity. But, I also wonder just who will pray for Nikolas Cruz and his “family”?
Knee-jerk reactions brought on by deep anger in these situations can be understood – somewhat, – but are they always beneficial? These can lead to incendiary moments of outburst, and fuel the fires of deep-seated hatred, causing a domino effect that leads to further violence and more tragedy. This can produce more victims than originally scored. So, in situations such as these, we must ask the WWJD question: “What would Jesus Do?”
Knowing as they did the command of Moses to “hate your enemy,” Jesus’ disciples must have been jolted to hear their Good Teacher say to them, “love your enemies.” He turns the world upside down. Instead of urging them to take “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” He commanded that they “offer no resistance to one who is evil.” Like us, the disciples were heavily influenced by what St. Paul would soon call “the wisdom of this world.” God did not design the human heart to hold hatred and harmony together. One or the other has to go, and worldly wisdom makes room for hatred at the expense of peace. In stark contrast, the wisdom of God on the lips of Jesus is foolishness to the world. What possible sense can it make to turn the other cheek, to hand over your cloak along with your tunic, to go the extra mile? Worldly wisdom has long derided such Christian meekness as nothing but pure and simple weakness – the morality of slaves afraid to insist on their dignity and stand up for their rights, who surrender to the stronger in order to get by.
Rev. Dr. Billy Graham, of recent memory, quoting from a scriptural base known to Catholic and non-Catholics alike, said that we have a test case for these clashing perspectives in the Folly of the Cross, where Jesus practiced what He preached. Unjustly condemned, He offered no resistance. Slapped in the face by the High Priest’s servant, He did not strike back. Pressed into service by the Romans, He walked without complaint as far as they demanded. Nailed to His Cross, He prayed for His persecutors. Looking back on the Crucified One, we don’t see fear-filled cowardice, but overflowing courage. The so-called “defeat” on the Cross actually leads to lasting, irreversible victory in the Resurrection.
But the Passion and death of Jesus has a significant cautionary lesson for us as well. Not for a moment did Jesus regard His unjust condemnation by Pilate as a just judgment, as a consequence merited by His behavior. The Lamb of Sacrifice knew full well that He did not deserve a Roman death sentence, yet He willingly endured its shame. To the evil that devoured Him He offered no resistance. But His silence in the face of His accusers powerfully asserted His disagreement with their judgment. But, if we are to imitate Jesus by turning the other cheek or walking the extra mile, we must never accept as right the unjust condemnation of one who “presses us into service,” slaps us in the face, or strips us of our dignity. No! Rather we must remember that a harsh, cruel, contemptuous judgment does not truly define who we are, even though, like Jesus before Pilate, are powerless to refute it. The path through the Passion is the path of self-mastery that leads to freedom. “You will know the truth,” Jesus promises, “and the truth will set you free”—free to turn the other cheek, free to walk the extra mile. Whatever wrong someone does to you, the wisdom of the world whispers, “do it back to him!” Heavenly wisdom advises us differently: “Whatever God has done for you, do the same for your neighbor. What you give away to him will come back to you as peace.”