The first reading is from the Book of Wisdom. And although it was written two centuries before Jesus it records the same kind of hateful words the Jewish leaders would say against Jesus.
They said, “His life is not like that of others. Different are his ways.”
When you think about it, the feeling that people are different from us is behind all feelings of hatred. On the other hand, coming to see others the same as us, is what is behind turning to love them.
One afternoon in Korea maybe fifty years ago I was gathering thoughts for the next Sunday’s sermon. The Bible readings for the day quoted Jesus as saying, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”
Now, I had always presumed that by saying, “Love thy neighbor as thyself” Jesus meant I should love my neighbor as much as I love myself. That afternoon it struck me that Jesus could have been telling me to love my neighbor as though he or she were myself.
Sympathy, they say, is feeling supportive of someone who is suffering. Maybe that was not what Jesus was calling for. Perhaps he was calling for empathy. That means getting inside another for a full share of their feelings. It is imagining you are that person. That afternoon it occurred to me that what they call method acting is the same thing. You look at a fat cop walking his beet, running his nightstick along a wrought iron fence. So you push out your belly, and you stroll like you own the street, clicking an imaginary club along an imaginary fence, and you come to feel what it is like being that cop.
The next Sunday, after an hour of confessions and two Sunday Masses and sermons without even a glass of water, I was standing outside church wishing the people would go away. When two pretty girls came up to chat I didn’t mind it. But, then, an old woman came, tugging on my sleeve, and saying, “Look at my bad eye.”
I definitely did not want to look at her bad eye. But, suddenly I heard Jesus telling me to love the old woman as though she were myself. I like my fried eggs sunny side up, but the old woman’s eye was like an egg over hard, fried hard. I had always been fond of my Irish eyes, and I guess the old woman once had lovely sparkling eyes. How sad it was to see what has happened to my beautiful eye.
There was nothing I could do for the lady, but I noticed how she was bent over her walking stick, and it occurred to me that the night’s rain had made the path over the hill from her house very slippery. I told her, “It was very brave of you to come here over that dangerous path.”
Her face was suddenly young again as she said, “Oh, Father, you understand.”