And if anyone asks him, “What are these wounds on your chest?” he shall answer, “With these I was wounded in the house of my dear ones.”
Since by your obedience to the truth you have purified yourselves so that you can experience the genuine love of brothers, love each other intensely from the heart.
-1 Peter 1:22
One of the wonders of the Holy Spirit’s work in inspiring the authors of Scripture is that often he spoke powerful truths through them without their having any idea what they were saying. In those cases (as, perhaps, with the prophecy of the virgin birth in Isaiah 7:14 or the description of Christ’s passion in Psalm 22) the authors have a specific literal meaning in mind but are unaware of how their words point forward to Christ and the Church.
This passage from Zechariah seems to be a prime example. Scholars tell us that the author was explaining that he had not wounded himself, as the false prophets did, but had been attacked because of his faithfulness to the Lord.
What Christian could read those words, however, and not be drawn to contemplate the pierced side of Christ? This passage follows shortly after Zechariah 12, where we hear of the man thrust through and mourned over as one mourns for an only son. How can we not hear these words spoken by the Sacred Heart of Jesus?
When we read this verse in the light of the Passion, the emphasis moves from the wounds to the attitude of the Pierced One. He wasn’t wounded by his enemies or by traitors or by fools who knew not what they did; he was wounded by his dear ones. And even after their betrayal and murder, he refuses to define them by their sin. They are his dear ones.
I think often of St. Longinus, the centurion whose lance pierced the side of Christ. This man who literally crucified God has been raised to the altars for veneration by the Christian faithful because even he is beloved. I wonder what his conversion looked like. Certainly it began when he cried out, “Truly this man was the son of God!” But that one moment wouldn’t have brought about reconciliation or welcome into the community. Did he, like Peter, meet the risen Christ face to face and repent of his sin? Did he encounter him like Paul, a vision that turned his whole life around? Or was he transformed by the slow, silent witness of a hundred ordinary Christians who loved him despite his deicide?
It’s hard to say. I expect I’ll ask him one day. But I feel confident of this: for all he committed a horrifying act, he was still a dear one of Christ. And because of that, he was a dear one of Christ’s Church and every member of it. They may have struggled personally to move past their anger but they chose to love.
It must have been awful for Longinus, accepting this love. I’m sure he felt wretched and unworthy. I’m sure that when Peter grinned at him (as I expect Peter was wont to do) and Mary put her hand gently on his shoulder he wanted to scream, “How can you love me like this? Have you forgotten what I did??”
But Longinus had been called not just to be forgiven but to be obedient to the truth of that forgiveness. The creed demands that we accept the forgiveness of sins, which means we have to allow the Lord to speak the truth that we are made new. That we are worthy of love.
For many of us, it’s this truth that’s hardest to accept. Sure, God exists. And He became a zygote. And he hides himself under the appearance of a wafer. No problem.
But the idea that I am whole again? Washed clean and deserving of love and respect and dignity? That with my past (and possibly my future) I’m still called to glory? That’s a tough one. Because I know I don’t deserve it.
No. We none of us do. But the truth that we’re called to be obedient to is that the blood of Christ has made us worthy. Whether or not we want to accept his love and the love of his Church, we are his dear ones. And our task is not only to love one another intensely, but also to be loved. To let go of the lies that tell us our sin makes us unworthy and to accept the truth that all are made new in Christ.
In that truth, we stand with Sts. Longinus and Olga and Moses the Black and Mary of Egypt and every sinner great and small since the moment our sweet Lord cried, “It is finished.” Because whatever your past is, your future holds a crown if only you let him love you. If only you let us love you. If only you love the sinners that surround you. Love each other intensely, dear ones. In Christ, you deserve it.