St. Patrick’s Day is one of my favorite holidays to celebrate, a close second to Thanksgiving. It may seem like a strange holiday to single out as having significant meaning, until you understand the story of love behind the man whose life is celebrated on this day. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven… if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?” -Matthew 5:43-47 Jesus offered a new way when he came to earth and taught his followers to “love your enemies”… not just friends or family. It seems like a radical concept in our society, especially considering we rarely can tolerate our neighbor. We often get angry at the person who cuts us off in traffic, at the grocery clerk who takes too long to scan our items, the person who accidentally mows too far into our yard. How can we claim to observe this teaching of Christ, when we demonize those with differing political, social, or religious views? Jesus said the two greatest commands are:
- Love God with your entire being.
- Love your neighbor as yourself.
The difficulty you find when studying further into Jesus’ teachings is that he considered nearly everyone to be a neighbor. Jesus did alienate some… those who taught sound principles and claimed to know the truths of God, but failed to live in a manner that demonstrated love. The story of St. Patrick is one that should be celebrated of an individual who transformed a region, because of his dedication and willingness to serve God. His actions demonstrated this love about which Jesus taught. The person who would become “St. Patrick” lived in 5th Century Roman-Britain, and was kidnapped at age 16 by Irish pirates, then enslaved for six years. One night he heard a voice telling him to leave, because his ship was ready. St. Patrick fled his captors to a port 200 miles away, where the captain of the ship agreed to let him board. After a long journey, he finally returned home. After spending time studying, he received a vision that he was to become a missionary to Ireland. St. Patrick returned to the same people under whom he was enslaved, ministered to them, and saw the message of Christ transform the lives of thousands. This story should serve as an example to us of what it truly means to “love our enemies.” Instead of our tendency to push away the person who offends us, but to demonstrate love, even in the face of persecution. Is this the example we set as Christians today? Is this the kind of love we show to those who oppose us? …or… Do we get out our picketing signs filled with hateful and critical language…. our Christian t-shirts with catchy, but judgmental slogans… rally behind our favorite political party… our favorite nations… vilifying those with whom we disagree… meanwhile, deceiving ourselves into thinking that it will somehow honor Christ by “taking a stand?” I don’t see any example of Jesus doing these things. I see a Jesus who was so overwhelmed with love that he gave up his life in eternity to enter our mess… then demonstrated a life of love in order to bring us back to Him… …while we were busy trying to figure out the most efficient way to put him to death. What if St. Patrick would have never responded to the voice he heard saying to flee his captors? What if he had been stubborn when God gave him the vision to return to the land where he had been a slave for six years? What if we refuse to love the “enemies” in our life (how great or small) as Jesus directed? We’ll never know what kind of impact we could have made, because we decided to be our own god and follow our own actions, our own thoughts, our own decisions… and stay huddled up in safety with our friends and family while the rest of the world is left for hell. What would happen if we responded to God’s call to love radically? It could alter history, it could change our nation and world. So, as the city rivers are being dyed green… and Guinness or Killian’s is flowing out into the streets… let’s not lose sight of the significant demonstration of love shown from a man seeking follow Christ as we celebrate the holiday that is St. Patrick’s. “I cannot keep silent, nor would it be proper, so many favours and graces has the Lord deigned to bestow on me in the land of my captivity. For after chastisement from God, and recognizing him, our way to repay him is to exalt him and confess his wonders before every nation under heaven.” -From the Confession of St. Patrick