Having a Heart for Others

John 13:16-20

The advertising campaign that has been assembled to attract the next group of men to seek ordination as deacons here in the Pittsburgh Diocese uses the tagline, "Do you have a heart for others?" This sounds like such a simple calling, but at the same time, to have a heart for others in the manner that Christ describes in the Gospel, raises the level of expectation much higher than what appears on the surface.


Think for a moment of the people who frustrate us the most.  Think of those who have (as the Gospel describes) "raised their heel" against us?  They really get under our skin.  When we encounter these types challenging people, how can we remain as a servant like Jesus?


Jesus says in today’s Gospel that we can never be greater than he is. He is our Master- this we understand. What we don't understand is how we'll be blessed by serving the same way that he served.  Think of it- he served Judas even when he knew how Judas would betray him.


Because Jesus lives in us, it is possible that we can have the same kind of servant's heart toward those who betray or frustrate us with their sinfulness, just as Jesus exhibited.  Like Jesus, we can love them and do good for them without cooperating in their sinfulness.


We betray Jesus when we give anger to others instead of God's love. We raise our heels against him when we refuse to imitate his self-sacrificing servanthood.  Jesus showed, by his example - that going to the cross for others is a good thing!  But we might think, how can it be good for us when we're being nailed to the cross by someone's unloving behavior, or when we're crucified unjustly by false accusations?  How are we to overcome our feelings of frustration and hurt?


Jesus answered that a little earlier in John's gospel (John 12) when he said: "Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me." From this passage, we realize that we are truly blessed to be "honored" by God!


The alternative is to hang onto our hurts and act upon our feelings of frustration. But then we remain cursed by our woundedness.  Healing only begins when we forgive others, whether they ask for it or not.

It's frustrating when we insist that others treat us the way they should, because when they don't, our focus is on what's hurting us rather than on Jesus. We'll only be frustrated by trying to find happiness this way.


True happiness in troubling times comes from uniting ourselves to Christ.  I found a commentary about this gospel reading that put it this way:  It says, "Our flesh-nature says, 'I don't want to endure this!  Let me issue my own justice on this troublemaker'.  Our spirit-nature, connected to the Holy Spirit, says: 'If they can't or won't give me love in appropriate measure, I will let them crucify my desire to receive love from them and I will rely on God to raise my life to new heights of joy."


Said another way by St. Ignatius of Antioch: "I am the wheat of Christ, ground by the teeth of beasts to become pure bread." He is saying, by letting others grind us up at times, we become Eucharist for them (the Bread of Christ). We become a sign of the true Christ.  We then become a tremendous gift to others!


Seeing ourselves as "Eucharist" doesn't mean keeping ourselves, or putting ourselves, in harm's way. But if we follow Jesus to the cross and the resurrection, even if the other people surrounding us who are giving us grief don't change, we do. Their choices and behaviors no longer control our feelings.  When we arrive at this place, we become greatly blessed!


It’s all about the choices we make.  There’s that old story of a Native American elder who tells his grandson about two wolves who live in every heart. One is Evil — anger, jealousy, pride — and the other is Good — joy, love, peace, humility. The grandson asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?” The elder replied, “The one you feed.”


To ask the question, "Do you have a heart for others?" in the context of today's Gospel, we must go deeper than the touchy-feely, emotionally focused connotation that the world applies to the word "heart".  To have a servant's heart means to be blessed as a result of our self-sacrificing choices.


So, we pray today that we will be encouraged to allow Jesus to minister to us more deeply, so that we will find the grace we need to minister to other people. Jesus loves us enough to send us out as his ambassadors.  We ask for.... a heart for others... that has been transformed, so that we can serve as he has served!


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