Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. (Eph 4:32)
This agenda for life is practical and to the point. It would be enough on its own to create a different kind of society, more brotherly, more supportive. It was part of a broader project put before Christians in Asia Minor.
In these communities ‘peace’ had been reached between Jews and Gentiles, the two peoples representative of humanity till then divided.
The unity given by Christ has to be constantly renewed and translated into practical social action wholly inspired by mutual love. This is the basis for suggesting how our relationships should be:
Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, ...
Kindness: wanting the good of others. It means ‘making ourselves one’ with them, approaching them being completely empty of ourselves, of our own interests, our own ideas, of the many preconceptions that cloud our vision, to take on ourselves their burdens, their needs, their sufferings, and to share in their joys.
It means entering into the hearts of the people we meet in order to understand their mindset, their culture, their traditions, so as to make them, in a certain sense, our own, and really understand what they need and be able to discern those values God has planted in the heart of every person. In a word: kindness means to live for whoever is near us.
Tender-heartedness: welcoming others as they are, not as we would like them to be, with a different character, with our political views or our religious convictions, and without those faults and habits that annoy us so much. No, we need to expand our hearts and make them able to welcome everyone, with their differences, their shortcomings and troubles.
Forgiveness: always seeing other people as new. Even where there are the best and most peaceful relationships, in the family, at school, at work, there are inevitably moments of friction, differences of opinion, clashes. People sometimes reach the point of not speaking to each other, of avoiding one another, to say nothing of when real and true hatred towards someone who thinks differently roots itself in the heart. We have to make a strong and rigorously thorough commitment to try and see each person as though they were new, completely new, not remembering at all how they have hurt us, but covering everything with love, with a complete amnesty in our hearts, imitating God who forgives and forgets.
True peace and unity are attained when kindness, tender-heartedness and forgiveness are lived not only by people individually, but together, with one to another mutually.
And just as the embers of a fire have to be poked every now and then, so that they are not smothered by the ashes, so too from time to time it is necessary deliberately to revive the decision to love one another, to revive our relationships with everyone, so that they are not covered up by the ashes of indifference, apathy, selfishness.
Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, ...
These attitudes demand to be translated into life, into practical action.
Jesus showed us what love is when he healed the sick, when he fed the crowds, when he brought the dead back to life, when he washed the feet of his disciples. Actions, deeds: this is what it means to love.
I remember an African mother whose daughter, Rosangela, lost an eye after an aggressive young boy hurt her with a stick. He even continued to make fun of her afterwards. Neither of the boy’s parents said that they were sorry. The silence, the lack of communication with that family, made the mother feel bitter. ‘Don’t be upset,’ said Rosangela who had forgiven the boy, ‘I am lucky because I can see with my other eye!’
Rosangela’s mother told us: ‘One morning the boy’s mother asked me to go round to her house because she felt ill. My reaction was: “Look, now she is coming to me for help. With so many other neighbours she could have asked, she asks me, after all her boy has done to us!”
‘But right away I remembered that love has no limits. I ran to her house. She opened the door and fainted into my arms. I took her to the hospital and stayed with her until the doctors saw her. A week later she was discharged from the hospital and came to my house to thank me. I welcomed her with all my heart and I felt that I had finally managed to forgive her. Now we are in touch again. In fact, our relationship is totally new.’
Every day of ours, too, can be filled with real acts of service, humble and intelligent expressions of our love. We will then see brotherhood and peace grow around us.
(See also the Word of Life commentary for August 1988.)