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Charity is Not Easily Provoked

There are many aspects of Christlike love and kindness, something I wrote about last week, but this week I want to focus briefly on a specific one, one that I feel is greatly lacking in today’s fast-paced world. As both Paul and Moroni write, charity, the pure love of Christ, “is not easily provoked” (1 Corinthians 13:5; Moroni 7:45).

To provoke someone is to “stimulate or give rise to (a reaction or emotion, typically a strong or unwelcome one) in [them]” (Oxford Dictionaries: provoke). Another more specific definition is to “deliberately make (someone) annoyed or angry.” So to be provoked is to have someone or something cause you to react negatively, emotionally, angrily, or just bothered at something going on around you, maybe something someone else says or does.

Think about that as it relates to Christ not being easily provoked. He certainly demonstrated a full spectrum of emotions and reactions to the world around him. His apostles periodically did things to he disapproved of, resulting in harsh rebuking at times. He shed tears of sadness, like when he heard Lazarus had died. He also lashed out angrily, even violently, when he found the money changers and merchants working on the temple grounds at Jerusalem.

Yet we are to understand that in none of this was he easily provoked. Rather, he was deliberate and methodical, even thoughtful whenever he showed emotion. Consider how the Pharisees often tried to provoke him. In one instance, they brought a woman caught in adultery before him, saying, “Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?” (John 8:5).

Rather than immediately replying, the Savior “stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, ‘He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her'” (6-7). His response was perfect and forced the Pharisees to withdraw their hopes of making him look like a blasphemer and heretic.

This isn’t the typical way in which people provoke us, by trying to embarrass and defame us publicly, but it’s a fantastic example for the principle I want you to derive from the idea that charity is not easily provoked. Reacting calmly to those around you in the heat of the moment is an important part of personal development and character, and based on what the Savior taught the multitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, it is an expectation:

“resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. . . I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:39-42, 44-5)

Consider the alternatives to turning the other cheek to someone. You could strike the person back. You might also flee. Or at the very least, you’d certainly take a guarded stance. The Savior encourages none of this. Rather, he would have you remain vulnerable, and that is what love is: it is an openheartedness to others, an accepted vulnerability.

The Savior does not want us to close our hearts no matter what. He wants us to love and pray for our enemies, to be there for those walking down dark paths–walking the extra mile with them–and to be humble when we are found in the wrong–like when we are sued at the law and must give our coats. His expectations for our discipleship are high, much higher than we generally strive live to by, which is why he closes that thought with the command, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (48).

This isn’t limited to great wrongs, nor to blatant acts of disregard. No, it’s about the little things, the small interactions we share with others. Think about the times that someone says something that rubs you the wrong way, or little things that people do to annoy you or make you feel unloved or disrespected. The 21st-century cynic might tell you to protect yourself from others and be on guard, but the Savior would have you not instantly judge the words of others, nor immediately jump and quickly react to such things. No, he wants you to be thoughtful and considerate, patient and compassionate.

In conclusion, there is a time and place for most emotions, such as anger, sadness, fear, and so on. I recently watched Pixar’s Inside Out, an animated film about how our different emotions work together as we grow and mature. One of the movie’s themes is that each emotion we feel serves a purpose, but we need to learn those purposes in order to really mature as individuals.

So it is with how we interact with the world around us. We’re allowed to be sad, angry, upset, fearful, uneasy, etc., but there is a time and a place for all these reactions to the trials of life. The Savior teaches us to not lash out at the world in moments of crisis, but to pause and always consider those around us as our brothers and sisters, people we love, not as objects to carelessly cast our inner turmoils upon. It’s no easy task, but we ought to always search for our inner light and let it shine, no matter what storms encompass us.

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