About a month ago I wrote about feeling “stuck” spiritually. Over the past week or two I have been guided to understand some of the things I need to do to progress upward toward the blessings God has promised will one day be mine. I have been shown that I simply can’t receive those blessings until I have overcome some weaknesses that are barring my way forward.
Today I spoke over the pulpit to my church congregation. The scriptures that guided my message come from Luke 22. The Savior had just finished praying in the Garden of Gethsemane and was speaking with his Apostles. Then a large group appeared, led by Judas, to arrest Jesus:
47 ¶ And while he yet spake, behold a multitude, and he that was called Judas, one of the twelve, went before them, and drew near unto Jesus to kiss him.
48 But Jesus said unto him, Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?
49 When they which were about him saw what would follow, they said unto him, Lord, shall we smite with the sword?
50 ¶ And one of them smote the servant of the high priest, and cut off his right ear.
51 And Jesus answered and said, Suffer ye thus far. And he touched his ear, and healed him.
I have read and heard this story more times than I could count, but it wasn’t until this past week that I paid much attention to the words Jesus said when he healed the smitten servant’s ear. The King James Version is sort of hard to understand: “Suffer ye thus far.” I couldn’t really grasp what that meant. So I looked at alternate translations of his words. What I found was that, in plain English, it basically means: “No more of this!”
Most of us aren’t walking around wielding actual swords and smiting off people’s ears (I hope), but we do quite often wield swords of another sort. Psalm 57:4 makes them clear:
My soul is among lions: and I lie even among them that are set on fire, even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword.
Some of us are regularly turning our words into very sharp swords that are harmful to their recipients. But they are also harmful to ourselves. Scientific studies have demonstrated that harsh words have real, measurable, detrimental effects on those who speak them:
One of my favorite LDS scholars is Catherine Thomas, a retired professor of Ancient Scripture. She dedicated a whole chapter of her incredible book Light in the Wilderness to overcoming enmity. Thomas defines enmity this way:
Enmity is contempt, manifested not only in words but also in subtle facial expressions like eye-rolling or narrowing of the eyes, cold silences, ‘don’t touch me,’ giving each other ‘the look.’ If the words or attitudes disempower, show disrespect, or devalue the other, then they are abusive (p. 153).
Thomas also explains how enmity can separate us from the Divine and impede our spiritual progression:
Enmity in all its shades forms the veil between us and a higher dimension. It colors our world gray, and though we may not know what the real problem is, we feel under its influence that we are only sort of alive (p. 154).
All of this has shown me that I have work to do. There are certain individuals in my life who have been the recipients of my sharp tongue and sometimes more subtle enmity and disrespect. I am generally not an angry or mean person. I smile at strangers and treat most people with kindness and respect. But there are a few people in my life with whom I tend to become very easily triggered and find myself reacting intensely, angrily, and disrespectfully. As I prepared to speak to my church congregation and read those verses in Luke 22, I felt as though Jesus was speaking directly to me: “No more of this!”
I want to change, but how do I do it? I am still looking for answers to this question. But the following is a list of things I have been impressed to try.
My To-do List
But charity is the pure love of Christ. . . . Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; . . . that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure.
I invite you to consider what swords you might be wielding in your life. Whose ears are you regularly cutting off? Who are the recipients of your anger and enmity? Can we bury our weapons of war?
I’ll be trying.