A few days ago, I had the privilege of hearing a survivor of the Holocaust speak. Mrs. Marsha Tishler was only three weeks old when her parents, who were Jewish, went into hiding to avoid being sent to a concentration camp. In order to save her life, Mrs. Tishler’s parents placed her on a doorstep of a farmhouse one night with a note imploring the owners to take care of their baby girl. The homeowners called a town elder, whose sister and brother-in-law agreed to raise the child, even though the elder had recognized her and knew that her family was Jewish. The Christian couple raised Mrs. Tishler for two and a half years until her parents were able to come out of hiding.
What struck me about listening to Mrs. Tishler talk was that even though she was born into a world of hate, the way she portrayed her story was full of love, hope, and beauty. You would think that someone born into the type of society that Mrs. Tishler was born into would have every right to be bitter and angry. Yet, Mrs. Tishler took the hate that the world threatened to drown her with and she found something to cling to that helped her to stay afloat—she found hope. From just a little glimmer of hope, she was able to bring forth the beauty of love and compassion to counteract the ugliness of hatred. The act of kindness by the couple who took Mrs. Tishler into their home gave her the hope that allowed her to transform hate into love.
This transformation reminds us of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus takes the hatred of all those around him and responds with love and sacrifice. In doing so, he transforms the ugliness of the crucifixion into a beautiful act of love. The crucifixion and resurrection, which began as an act of betrayal, becomes the most powerful symbol of hope in our faith. Like Jesus, we are challenged to respond to bitterness with compassion. Jesus tells his followers quite plainly that the world will hate them. The life we are called to live is countercultural, and it is likely that we will experience some resistance. We are called to respond to this hate with love.
I think this is what Jesus means when he instructs us to turn the other cheek when we are struck. It’s not that we are weak for not fighting back—instead, we must have the strength to transform the hatred we are faced with into love. This strength comes from the power of hope. Just as Mrs. Tishler found hope and clung to it, we must find hope in the harshest of circumstances, and allow that hope to empower us to love. Mrs. Tishler was freer than her oppressors because hope gave her the freedom to love, while her oppressors were trapped in the confines of their own hatred. We are called to be signs of hope that will free one another.