As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.
Editor’s Note: This year, The Banner hosted a writing contest for young adults exploring the topic, “Christian Love in Divisive Times.” This article was one of the runners-up in that contest. To read more runners-up and the winning articles, click here.
“Follow God's example, therefore, as dearly loved children, and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” These words from Ephesians 5 have occupied ample space in my thoughts lately, as my high school class had selected them to be the focal point of our graduation ceremony. But with all candor, today the message of this passage seems foreign, a fantasy born from a church with its eyes closed to what lies beyond the sanctuary.
My diploma and slew of Bible verses appear helpless against a world and its people bent on dividing, relentlessly incurring their own destruction. Even as disease and violence unrepentantly claim lives across the breadth of our nation and globe, we humans tirelessly find ways to divide. Contradicting views on the “proper” virus response lead to city streets and social media pages smeared with condescension and malice. In our own neighborhoods we see century-long cases of injustice brought into even greater relief as systems we wish to trust claim innocent lives, causing our faith to crumble. The “way of love” Paul spoke of is far from view, “offerings” take the form of frustration and blood, and lives aren’t “sacrificed” but taken.
But turning again to Ephesians, I realize the context of Paul’s message is more relevant than a weary glance might assume. Chapters before urging the people of Ephesus to live as God’s “dearly loved children,” Paul spoke to the enduring animosity between the Jews and Gentiles, a rift birthed by differences in race, class, and worldview. In Ephesians 2:14, he acknowledges “the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” Cavernous divides between people groups are not unique to our modern plight. Figurative and physical “dividing wall(s) of hostility” are not a brand-new occurrence after all. The early church struggled with their own breeds of discord. And to the Ephesians, who were confronted with these seemingly insurmountable conflicts and questioned what it meant to be Christ-followers in a world Christ had just physically left, Paul offered this: Walk in love.
The choice of the word “walk” in this sentence intrigues me. Paul could have hardly selected a more mundane, prosaic verb. It’s almost as if he said to breathe in love, to be in love. And isn’t that just it? When the death tolls, unmasked injustices, political spats, and arguments between neighbors soar and our spirits sink, what more can we do than just walk?
But Paul presented more than a “what.” He gave the Ephesians—and us—a “why.” As uncomfortable as it is to swallow, his letter reminds that the path laid before us is not one of ease. “Follow God’s example,” Paul says, “just as Christ loved us and gave himself up.” As surely as we know Jesus is our Savior, we know the road he took was arduous, fraught with affliction and grief, and aimed directly at the cross. And that is the road we are called to walk. If we live a Christian life, hurt is guaranteed. Our discomforts will range from trivial to heart-wrenching, but our Father walks us to and through these hardships, training us to live as God’s “dearly loved children.”
The Franciscan blessing emphasizes the impact we can have when we allow our lives to take this cross-bound road. A portion of it reads, “May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain to joy.” Spiritual and physical pain, rejection, starvation, and war are plentiful. We may find ourselves turning away like the priest and Levite who preceded the Good Samaritan when these troubles veer too near our paths, intimidated by their severity. But what if all we need to do is to spare some tears? To reach out a hand? To walk toward the hurt, and in that simple act, bring comfort and joy?
This kind of love, the kind that not only expects pain, but walks toward it, is the kind that makes Christian love distinctive. And it’s the kind that’s needed most urgently because it’s characterized by the knowledge that Christ has tread the path beforehand and emerged with no less than resurrecting power! There is no other love that meets headlines of hatred and anarchy and rewrites them with hope. There is no other love that transforms years of discord between neighbors into empathy. There is no other love that rises to greet each morning, each day of guaranteed death and disease, with assurance of eventual healing.
Inheriting a world defined by divisions and broken pieces, I know I’ve been given power enough, a power that stretches its hands to the length of the cross. A power that shows that what our divided world needs is not large-scale shows of courage. Or impossible optimism. Or heroes, or geniuses, or even more words. Just children of God who are willing to walk.