"Behold thy son! Behold thy mother!" (St. John xix. 26, 27).
IN pictures or carvings of the Crucifixion our Lord is generally represented as attended by His Mother on one side of the Cross and St. John on the other. There were other people there; but these are selected as the two whom Jesus loved best on earth, and as the two who loved Him best. That human love finds utterance in the midst of mortal agony; His blessed Mother and His beloved Disciple are in His thoughts, He will provide for them in the time when He will no longer be with them--"Woman, behold thy Son!" "Behold thy Mother!" It is love, then, which is the theme of the Third Word from the Cross--love which had breathed in every word and every act of the Incarnate Life of the Son of God. "Having loved His own that were in the world, He loved them unto the end"; and no love that we have ever dreamed of was so loyal, so constant, so generous as His. He had won and retained His apostles by His love for them; He had loved them in spite of their ignorance, their prejudices, and their misunderstandings; loved them in spite of the hardness of their hearts and the dullness of their minds. When one of them denied Him, it was love that flashed from the eyes of Jesus to the soul of Peter and drove him from the judgment hall to shed the bitter tears of repentance. When another of them was in the act of betraying Him, His love to Judas never faltered as He made His last supreme effort to recall him from the abyss: "Friend, wherefore art thou come?" "Judas, betrayest thou the Son of Man with a kiss?" We can understand in some small way how the characters and conduct of people, even the best people, must have grated on the perfect refinement, the wisdom, the courtesy, and charity of Christ's human nature. What an unutterable trial their stupidity, their self-seeking, their uncharitableness must have been to Him I When He spoke of the leaven of the Pharisees, it only occurred to them that they had left their bread behind; when He spoke of His Kingdom and its laws, they started squabbling for the chief places at His court; when He was rejected by some village, they showed that they knew not what spirit they were of by wishing to call down fire from heaven upon the villagers. Yet He loved them in spite of it all, bore with their faults and limitations, and on the threshold of His Passion deliberately bequeathed the example of His love for them to follow--the law of love as a new commandment for them to obey.
Yes; that is His commandment and that is His example, and how fearfully difficult it is to obey the one and to follow the other! If, as we have seen, it is hard to follow His example of prayer and forgiveness, it is infinitely harder to follow His example of love.
It is easy enough to love our friends, but then there are the people who rub us up the wrong way with everything they say or do, the people who get on our nerves, who offend, annoy, and irritate us. How, we say, can we love people with whom we have not an idea in common, people who misinterpret our motives, misconstrue our words, and condemn all our actions? And there must always be many such people about us; we cannot expect to be surrounded only by those whom we naturally like and with whom we have ideas and tastes in common. But why can we not follow the example of Christ: His patience and gentleness and courtesy and generosity with such people as Nicodemus, or the woman of Samaria, or His disciples, or His enemies? We can only set this duty, the duty of following the example of Christ's love, before us, and deplore with a dull despair our utter inability to follow it. That law of love is holy and just and good, but there is the other law in our members, the law of pride and conceit and self-will and jealousy, bringing us into captivity to the law of hatred in a body sold under sin.
Here, then, we must pass from Christ our Example to Christ our Redeemer, and ask how does the Passion of our Saviour help us in the matter of the Law of Love? The word itself spoken from the Cross helps us to an answer. "Behold thy Son!" "Behold thy Mother!" It is a family relationship which is established amongst us by the sufferings of Christ. Consider how this must be so. It is the work of the Atonement to bring us back to God as His children; through it we return to our Father's house, redeemed, reconciled, forgiven, able to behave towards Him and to speak to Him as our Father; yes, and therefore able to behave and to speak to each other as brothers and sisters in our Father's family. If the Passion of Christ restores us to the family of God, it brings with it also a sense of brotherhood one with another.
So what Christ as our Redeemer does is to teach us that the people around us, whether we naturally like them and agree with them or not, are our kindred by the most sacred of all uniting bonds. "Behold thy Mother!" "Behold thy Son!" He says to us from the cross. Yes, and "Behold thy Brother!" "Behold thy Sister!" in just those whom you find it so difficult to love. Surely to impress upon us this kinship, this family relation which binds us together, is a real help. Members of the same family may not always be in perfect agreement, they may occasionally squabble and even fight; but at any rate they feel that there is a real bond of union between them, a real duty of making the best of each other, and of being considerate and kind, a duty of making friends again after a quarrel, of shaking hands again after a fight; and the duty has only to be reflected upon to be recognized as a duty of mutual love and service.
So, too, in the light of Christ's Passion will it be for us. We shall not agree with everyone; there will always remain our differences of temperament and taste; we shall feel more at our ease with some than with others. Christian love is not a flabby, invertebrate amiability which makes us express an equal agreement with the most opposite opinions expressed by the different people whom we meet. There will always be differences, and sometimes keen differences, between our views and convictions and those of other people. But that need be no bar to love. Love means that we make allowance for people, make the best and not the worst of them, are considerate and kind to them as members of one family. "Love suffereth long and is kind; envieth not; is not puffed up; seeketh not her own; is not easily provoked; thinketh no evil; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things." That is the love set before us by Christ's example, and that is the love which Christ's Passion puts within our reach by bringing us back to God as members of one family of His household. "By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another."
Then, when we make our Communion, Christ's love becomes our own indwelling life; more completely so, the more serious and real and devout our reception of Him is. His love which loved to the uttermost, His all-comprehensive, generous, redeeming love becomes the very food of our soul, nourishing, quickening, and strengthening the Christ-life given us at Baptism. The love that shrank from no sufferings, which endured all contradictions and insults and annoyances and misunderstandings, which saw clearly all our meannesses and littlenesses, all our treachery and hypocrisy, and loved us in spite of it all--that love becomes (increasingly as we try to grasp and understand the gift given to us) the very breath of our own being. The love which has conquered death and delights to be with the sons of men comes to express itself through us, if only we are loyal, not only transforming us but also other people as we look at them. We get to see things in them that we had never expected to be there. What had seemed to us the dull, commonplace area of their lives breaks up in our gaze into lights and shades, hills and dales; elements of aspiration, of unselfishness, of lovable-ness make themselves visible as we look at them with eyes purged and disciplined by the indwelling love of Christ. The love of Christ within us gives us a new capacity of discernment; now at last we see our neighbour as he is, and seeing him as he is we are able to love him. As long as we were content to scrutinize him with the cold wind of our criticism, he wrapped the cloak of concealment closer around himself, and met criticism with defiance; but when the sun of the Christ-life in us warms him with its sympathy, the cloak is thrown off and he reveals himself to us as he is, with his weakness and aspirations, his ideals and his failures; and, knowing him, we grow to love him. Yes, and we recognize that the love of him is the measure of our love for Christ, that our love for Christ is unreal unless it is producing in us more and more of the love of our neighbour. "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his neighbour, he is a liar; for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? and this commandment we have from Him, that he who loveth God love his brother also."
And if we find that our Communion--our reception, that is, of the vital love of Jesus--is not making us grow in this knowledge and love of our neighbour, that means that there is something wrong about our Communions, that they are becoming mechanical and formal, that our preparation for them is being neglected, that we are not really offering ourselves, our souls and bodies, ourselves, our wills and affections, to be transformed and moulded after His example by the power of His life within us. Let us make this a matter of special self-examination before our Easter Eucharist. "Behold thy Mother!" "Behold thy Son!" Let the love of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament so work upon us and enlighten us that in every woman we may see some resemblance to the Holy Mother of Christ, and in every man some likeness of the beloved disciple, and, loving them for His sake, we may come to love Him also with something of the love with which He was loved by His Mother and St. John.
In our prayers, then, let us set before us the example of Christ's patient, all-enduring, considerate love for people who must have grated so much upon the sensitive refinement of His nature; let us remember that those whom we find it so hard to love are made our own kith and kin by His redemption of the human race and have an indefeasible claim on our affection; and let us pray that the Love of Christ, dwelling in us in our Communions, may give that sympathy with others which will help us to know and love them.
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