In the wake of yesterday's dramatic, frightening, shocking, inspiring and violent events in Boston, which gripped the nation, there is a great deal for us to pray for. In fact, after so much fear, violence and tension yesterday, especially in Boston, and especially in Watertown, today is probably a good day for quiet, for contemplation and for prayer. And, again, there is much to pray for.
First, we continue to pray for the victims of the bombings last Monday--for Martin Richards, Krystle Campbell and Lingzi Lu--and for their families and friends, who are grieving their terrible losses. Let us pray that God may receive them all into eternal peace and may console their families and friends. We also pray for Sean Collier, the M.I.T. police officer killed in the line of duty last night. We continue pray for the many, many victims who were so cruelly injured in the bombings on Boylston Street, and who are still recovering from their wounds, for their doctors and nurses, and also for their families and friends, who will help them in their long recovery. May God give them all a spirit of courage, patience and determination. We pray for Richard Donohue, the police officer injured last night in the shootout with the two suspects. We also pray in thanksgiving for the many selfless acts of the Boston Police over the last week, and for all the law-enforcement agents, who risked their lives to keep others safe. Greater love has no person than the willingness to lay down his or her life for others. This may be their job, and it may be expected of them, but the vast majority of us will never have to risk our lives in our jobs--especially for people we have never met--so we are called to pray in thanksgiving for their generosity, courage and heroism. We pray for all the people of Boston, for their safety and for their peace of mind after this wrenching week. We pray for healing and reconciliation in Boston, in our country and in our world.
But there is more to pray for. Today's Gospel (Jn. 6:60-69) tells us that some of the disciples found Jesus's sayings "hard," like the discourse on the Bread of Life. As a result, they left him. Imagine someone having spent time with Jesus of Nazareth--face to face--and walking away. Imagine seeing Jesus heal the sick, still the sea and raise someone from the dead, and still leaving. But what he said was so hard for people to hear, so hard to accept, and so hard to put into practice, that they left him. Other sayings are also "hard" for us to hear today, like this one: "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
That may be the "hardest" of all the things that Jesus said. But it may be the most necessary. And while it may make sense in theory (as a way of fostering a loving world, as a way of spreading peace, as a way of breaking the cycle of vengeance), it is very hard, almost impossible, in practice. That is, in real life. For now, in the wake of the bombings and the violence in Boston, we are called--by Jesus--to pray for the two terrorists, and for all those who persecute us. I'm not saying that you have to do that first, or most, or even with the same fervor or emotion or passion with which you pray for innocent victims like Martin Richards, Krystle Campbell, Lingzi Lu or brave public servants like Officer Sean Collier. But at some point in this process Christians are called, by Jesus, to pray for those who persecute us, to love our enemies--and even to forgive them. This doesn't mean that we in any way condone what they did, or that we don't hope that they receive a just punishment, or that we don't do everything we can to capture criminals and bring them to swift justice. But we are called to do something more by Jesus: pray for them, love them, forgive them. As he said, if we pray only for those who do good to us, "what are you doing more than others"? Yes, it is hard. For me, it's almost impossible. But this is what we are asked to do.
When they read this part of the Gospel, some people say that Jesus didn't know what he was talking about. Jesus didn't know our world, people say. Or maybe he was just naive. So, therefore, they say, we can ignore this statement. And so some Christians dismiss this part of the Gospel. But if as a Christian you say this, then you must admit that you are saying, in essence, that the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, God Incarnate, didn't know what he was talking about. Or that Jesus of Nazareth, who lived in an extremely violent time, when life was held cheap, didn't understand violence. Or that Jesus, who was himself the victim of a violent and unjust death, and who nonetheless forgave his executioners from the cross, didn't have the moral stature to ask us to do this hard thing. And if you refuse even to try to love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, and forgive those who sin against you, then you are also saying that you are taking the first step in walking away from Jesus, just like some of the disciples did all those years ago. And where, I've always wondered, did they end up?