“You have to take the bad with the good.”

That’s how my mom usually responded to my kvetching about my circumstances. When I was disappointed, flabbergasted, outraged, or frustrated, those words never failed to infuriate me.

What I heard her saying was, “Calm down.” It’s a well-known fact that, in the history of people needing to calm down, telling people to “Calm down” has never persuaded anybody to calm down.

In retrospect, I’ve come to believe that my mom probably meant to convey a lesson about life that I wasn’t yet prepared to learn. She was trying to help me see what it means to persist in being a person committed to nurture and healing in a world bent on breaking hearts and minds and bodies.

My mother survived Mauthausen, one of the Nazi’s cruelest if less-well-known concentration camps. American troops liberated that camp when she was sixteen. Accounts of the atrocities that took place there are a Google search away.

The only story my mother ever shared with me about that place was her liberation. Viciously beaten and left for dead by a German officer, my mother woke to find her wounds being tended by a GI. Her captors had fled ahead of their advancing enemy.

In movies and novels this episode might serve as the happy ending. She was free at last and that was that. The strife is o’er, the battle won. She lived happily ever after.

Only, she didn’t. In her personal life, she endured and eventually escaped an abusive husband. Two of her children—my brother and my sister—preceded her in death. The question for her was always, “Who will I be in response to this world?”

She had been liberated from that dreadful camp. But not from the world that devises such camps. She had been liberated into a world that still needs liberating. She would have to take the bad with the good. To respond to the bad with the good. Be a force of liberation especially when and where the forces of captivity redouble their efforts.

Jesus was saying something analogous to his friends just after he had emerged from the tomb. They were now people of the resurrection in a world that still crucifies people.

Jesus put it this way, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:23) We will be the people who heal and nurture, or we will perpetuate a world that returns violence for violence, wound for wound.

We cannot liberate this world by putting people in concentration camps. Even those who build concentration camps.

To be honest, sometimes I get weary and discouraged with this healing, nurturing work to which Jesus calls us. I’m a fan of closure and happy endings.

It’s tempting to believe that we could just eradicate the bad so that we’re left only with the good. These feelings grow especially acute when it seems that violence, prejudice, greed, and selfishness are on the rise.

But Jesus warns us that this is a dangerous, ultimately self-serving and destructive illusion. In one parable he puts it like this. Some weeds popped up in a wheat field. Workers wanted to pull up the weeds, but the landowner stopped them.

He said, “If you try to yank out the weeds you’ll just pull up the wheat along with them.” (Matthew 13:24-30) That’s the Kingdom as we will know it. You have to take the bad with the good. But not just to resign ourselves to the bad.

In another parable Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast. In quantity, the yeast is negligible compared to the dough. But without the yeast the entire mass would collapse in on itself. The yeast is present precisely for the sake of the whole. You have to take the bad with the good. Eventually, the good will make something even of the bad. (Matthew 13:33)

I don’t mean to suggest any false equivalencies here. There are captives and captors in this world. Forces of love and forces of hate.

There are those who pursue the common good, recognizing that to rob any person of dignity diminishes the dignity of every human being. And there are those who seek their own comforts and advantages and privilege at the cost of others’ deprivation and misery.

Jesus sets us free to liberate the captives from their captors and, paradoxically, the captors from themselves.

15 Comments

  1. Thank you Bishop for these little touch of life, I will miss them while you are on sabbatical.Safe travelsPatti

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPad

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  2. In some ways, and in different circumstances, this post reminded of my father. When he was 47 and I was a young child, he suffered brain damage and to save his life a pioneering operation took place in the 1950’s.
    Part of his brain was removed. Physically, he recovered over several years of gruelling physical rehab, but he lost his ability to either understand speech or actually speak. Nor could he ever again understand tv programmes, or read a book or write or work. Life was hard.
    One day out on a walk, he met a woman and invited her to coffee with my mother.
    She duly arrived, and we discovered she was deaf and dumb.
    How could these two extremely damaged people have communicated? But they did.
    My father’s faith had never faded or swerved and I believe Christ intervened that day and introduced a lonely, isolated lady to my mother who became her very good friend.
    Instead of being bitter, these two damaged people had faith and trusted God to look after them. And he did.
    Their captors were not guards but terrible afflictions. Two faithful and brave souls.
    I hope this is not an inappropriate response to the post about the terrible sufferings in the concentration camps.

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  3. Dear Bishop, I have been struggling with our Christian obligation to pray for those in leadership, especially those who hold public office when they say and do things which seem so cruel and are contrary to the Spirit of Christ. I have continued to do so but it has been a struggle. This reflection has given me an understanding of why I must continue to do so. Thank you for helping me on my spiritual journey.

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    1. I understand that struggle, especially today as we mourn another shooting in a synagogue. I’m grateful that we walk the journey together. On another note, I’ll be on sabbatical beginning May 1. My posts will be far less frequent until I return in August. I’ll be writing toward my next book, but won’t post much of that. During my sabbatical I’ll be visiting Mauthausen. Easter blessings……

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      1. I tried posting several times so I hope this doesn’t turn out to be redundant. While living in Germany, Joe & I visited Dachau (sp?) Concentration Camp. It was pretty gut wrenching. I will keep you in my prayers on your journey.

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  4. We can choose to love or hate, I choose love doesn’t mean our heart won’t be broken but maybe the light from the broken hearted shines forth. Anger and hate takes so much energy.

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