Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.
Colossians 3: 12-13
In today’s gospel Jesus tells us: “If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, and get back the same amount” (Luke 6: 34). It is difficult to hear that to be a disciple means to live differently from what all of us recognize to be “just fair”. Are we not to feel resentment when we loan a valued possession to someone and they fail to return it or return it in a damaged state? Many years ago I loaned someone a small book, but one that was very important to me. When the book was returned many months later, almost every page had notes and underlines in ink. My anger was so intense that I found it very difficult to “bear with” that person for a very long time afterwards. Beyond the physical damage to the text, I was affected by what felt to me as a disrespect for me as a person. It is difficult to forgive a grievance and to bear with others by whom we feel disrespected and unappreciated. Yet, this is the challenge that both of today’s readings offer us.
The dispositions that today’s reading from Colossians call us to are not ones that we can adopt merely by force of will. Although the author of Colossians tells us to “put on” these dispositions, it is also clear that they come about in us as a result of our relationship to God, “as God’s chosen ones.” For the most part, our dealings with others are based on what the gospel calls the way of sinners. We do things for others with the expectation of reciprocity. We behave in the world in such a way as to evoke the respect, if not the admiration of others. We care for others in expectation of being cared for. We lend with expectation of being repaid. We act in hope of being recognized and appreciated. These are the natural movements of our pre-transcendent personalities.
All the great wisdom traditions, however, tell us that we shall never really know peace until we relate to the world in a different way: not from the outside in but from the inside out. It is only when we cease to live in reference to the thoughts, opinions, and reactions of others and in reference only to God’s presence and call within us that we can sustain the dispositions of “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” When we are doing what we are called to be doing, then we are relating to the world in such a way that we are free of expectations of others and so can “bear with” them as they are, not as we need them to be. As long as we have our demands and expectations of others, we are bound by their reactions and so, in turn, reactive towards them.
It is said that emotions are essentially judgments. Our negative reactions to others are pre-reflective judgments we make based on their fulfilling of our expectations. When they are doing what we want or need, we have positive or “loving” reactions. When they are not, we have negative or angry reactions. The source of these reactions, however, are our demands and expectations. Jesus says we are to practice loving our enemies, turning the other cheek, and lending to those who will not repay. This is the way to learn the compassion, kindness, forgiveness, and so peace, described in Colossians. We learn to overcome our reactive lives through the experience of suffering those reactions and coming slowly to learn that they are not what is deepest in us.
Ultimately, our true life in Christ is not dependent on anything that others do or fail to do in our regard. Our disappointments in others and our anger and resentment toward them is but the surface of our lives. We are to practice caring and lending with no expectation of reciprocity because that is the way to come to know the life we live and share with the God who lets his rain fall on the just and the unjust alike. We come to know peace, and the possibility of bearing with all, as we realize our capacity to act in accordance with God’s will as manifest in each moment of our daily lives. When we do what we do, in the words of Meister Eckhart, “for no reason whatsoever” except that it is what is to be done by us at this moment, we know that we are responsible only to God and the love of God that impels us to act. When it is only to God and God’s call in us that we are responsible, then we can remain at peace, whatever the circumstances and reactions that surround us.
To rely on others in order to know yourself is to be unstable. Of course this does not mean you should live in some kind of isolation from others. To be isolated is just as unnatural and unstable as to live always in reference to others. Your true self is beyond either relying on others or avoiding them in order to know who you are. We can’t find true peace of mind until we live out the reality of the life of the self, since the foundation of the self is only the self. That is the universal self that I have been pursuing throughout my life.
Kosho Uchiyama, Opening the Hand of Thought, p. 26