When I was a teenager growing up, I had a long period of time questioning why did the Lord Jesus Christ had to die for me. I questioned the necessity of the Cross because no one who is truly omnipotent would ever do such a thing! From what I have read and heard from Vietnamese and Western fables and mythologies, the gods, demi-gods, or celestial beings always helped others with their godly or divine powers. No one needed to die a gruesome death for their subordinates or their human subjects! It was hard for me to understand for a while, as a teenager and an immigrant. Nevertheless, I slowly begin to realize it was never about power (in our humanistic terms) for our Savior and Redeemer. He did not have to prove Himself to be powerful. He only wanted to love, the love that genuinely expressed on the Cross and desired from each and every one of us.
The Cross was hard for me to understand as a kid who had very little to nothing! I came from a communistic socialist country of Viet Nam where the powerful did not care about others. As a matter of fact, even now, communism has caused people to only care about themselves as they try to navigate the system, getting to know those who are in control, and weave themselves into the one and only ruling party to gain access to power. Communism (still) leaves many people empty-handed and by the wayside, unless they are willing to sell their faith and/or moral values to conform to the corrupted, power-centered, and propaganda-driven machine where the government and its rules are the end-all-in-all. Communism requires absolute fidelity to its government as the overarching reality, definitive authority, and dictator of every citizens’ aspects. Every other “personal,” “secondary,” or “private” values have to be suppressed in order to comply with the only authoritative directions of the government. The world I was brought up was centered around power, either you have it, know the people who have it and can vouch for you, or you do not and have to stay in place where you are at! People used the Marx-Lenin ideology, making everything sounds good on the outside; but deep down, they were only using people and means to serve themselves. It was a dog-eat-dog world filled with deception, manipulation, and oppression from the government that is supposed to ensure social equality and communal respect to its citizens. The people that I saw while growing up was using power, title, and their influence to assert themselves, silence others, or get what they want, never to give themselves to others out of love. I had seen my own family members shamed, questioned, interrogated, and being watched because we were not “patriotic” enough. I had classmates who reported on me, teachers mistreated me, and neighbors watched me and my family because we did not belong to the Communist Party or did not express our fidelity to its ideology enough. That is why, even until today, I have a deep distrust of government officials because of my upbringing past! Living in such a world brought me to dislike those who are in power and wanted to have some types of authority or credentials just to be respected a little. Hence, that was the reason why I struggled to understand the Lord‘s ultimate sacrifice for a long time because I myself never had seen it from leaders and people who are supposed to lead and care.
Furthermore, when I came to America, I thought that this “Land of the Free” was supposed to be better because I heard that everyone is respected and treated with dignity here. While many people were welcoming toward us, we had to face many prejudicial discriminations and mistreatments as well. I had classmates who thought that we were over here to infiltrate and report back, questioned our intention and reason why we had to let go of our motherland to seek freedom. To be honest, it was hard in the first few years and that was why I wanted to learn the language as fast as I could to “fit in” with the rest. I spent a lot of time trying to get rid of my Vietnamese accent and properly speak an American accent so schoolmates would not make fun of me for being a “fresh off the boat” person! For the longest time, I was ashamed of being labeled as a Vietnamese and an immigrant, because I did not want to be looked at differently since I just want to be like everyone else. Every time people asked me how to say something in Vietnamese, they ended up making fun of our language with stereotypical accent-like responses. On top of that, I also witnessed a lot of mistreatments that my parents had to endure at their workplaces because they do not know as much English. All of that fueled my desire to better myself so I do not have to be made fun of anymore! I focused on trying to learn the language, get a good education, and find a good job to find a place in this world so I can fit in and repay my parents for the sacrifices they made in order to give us a new life here in America. That was why I pushed my priestly vocation away for a long time because the goal of being “normal” consumed and overtook what God was calling me to be. For the longest time, I struggled with perfectionism as to put up an “acceptable” facade, to be accepted and normal, and to “not mess it up” for our family. At my deepest stage of struggled, I found comfort in food and let myself go… at my heaviest weight, I stayed at around 320 pounds for a good while. Yet, there came a point where I was tired of trying to control everything, to fit in, and to be someone else that people wanted me to be. There came a point in my life when I was tired of the things that this world wanted me to be, how life was defined and taught by my past, and how I tried to stand out or fit in to the different circles that I finally let go. At that moment, I was so hurt, tired, and filled with self-loathing thoughts and attitudes that I finally said, “God, you’re in control! I’m tired. I give myself to you. Teach me and guide me!” That was the beginning of when I began to discover myself, learning to be loved and love.
The Lord Jesus Christ was not after power nor the assertion of Himself over other people. He was not into seeking control and trying to control others. The Savior of this world did not have to prove Himself to anyone because He knew who He is and what He was sent to do! As both God and man, His divinity was intimately united with the Father and Holy Spirit, and His humanity was enriched by the people and relationships around Him. The Lord expressed His disciples and to us what it means to be loved by God! He taught us with His life and examples, words and actions, that everyone who seeks God will find Him, everyone who is humble and repentant will be forgiven, everyone who seeks conversion will be given a second chance to leave their old paths and change their lives. Jesus and His ultimate sacrifice on the Cross intimately and personally reminded us that each and every one of us is worth redeeming and saving, for everyone is dear to God.
For those of us who have spent so much time of our lives trying to prove ourselves, seek control or acceptance, the Lord teaches us a lesson that is hard for us to accept, learn, and undo what we have created for ourselves. We are loved by God not because we are special, smart, powerful, good looking, exceptional, talented, or like others. We are loved by Him because He created us and knows us deep from within! The Almighty loves us in spite of our shortcomings, imperfections, limitations, and brokenness if we allow ourselves to be loved with humility, honesty, transparency, and genuineness. The hardest thing, even though it sounds so simple, is to love ourselves as we are instead of what we are trying do, prove, think, or be for others to love us. Let us be honest, too often times, we have allowed ourselves to be someone else than who we are deep from within because we do not like the image or person that we truly are. We tend to play this game of being offensive, defensive, justifying, and proving ourselves instead of simply accepting and being who God created us to be as His sons and daughters. We do not have to earn or prove anything except to depend on Him and becoming what He calls us to be with His grace! To be loved by the Creator requires us to be transparent, honest, humble, and vulnerable to Him instead of trying to control, manipulate, complain, being pitiful, or justifying ourselves to Him.
He knew how each and every one of us will fail to love Him, deny Him, and leave Him for other lesser goods, but He still chose to stretch out His hands to die for each and every one of us! He knew that some would not accept Him but He still gave His life as the exchange and expiation for our sins. The Savior died for us to show us that love is not about power, it is about self-donating, genuine, intimate, and personal giving of one’s self for others. Jesus‘ greatest power is not dependent on others or what He can get back from those who are around Him, it springs forth from His heart to love humanity that could not even love itself! He showed us that life is not about control, trying to be this or that person, or influence others, it is based on who we are and what we are called to be in response to what God has created us. In Christ, we find the purest expression of love, freedom, and liberation of the slavery to sins, what the world wants us to be, and what we think we have to be in order to fit in like the rest.
To be Christians, therefore, is not to be whatever we want to be and simply asking God to conform to our will! True faith is not egocentric, hedonistic, aspirational-based, nor self-serving. If we are believers only to get what we want and to ask God to provide, open doors, and serve our needs, we remain the most pitiful people on earth. True liberation and freedom are found in Christ so that we are free from the earthly goods and expectations, social manipulations and lies, false ideologies and enslavement to sins as to live as God‘s children without external or lesser reservations, fears, and worries. He came to save us from our own falsehood and pitiful selves so we can truly live for things that are everlasting, eternal, and transcendental. He showed us what it means to love by loving us until the very end! He taught us what it means to be God‘s beloved so we can truly be free from the dictatorship of sin, appealing falsehood, worldly destruction.
If we keep holding on to ourselves and our immediate or appetitive needs, we will never understand and able to live in the freedom that Christ has afforded us by His passion, death, and resurrection! If we only worry about love on quantitative measures and returns, we will never taste the sweetness of pure, genuine, intimate, and real love that comes from the heart. Therefore, we have to let go of our preconceptions and reservations, fears and worries, and especially the desire to be in control in order to savor the sweetness of His love and to love like Him. We do have a choice, and it will be an intimate and personal one, to accept or reject, to embrace and become, or to hold on to our sense of control and entitlement, as to be loved by God and to love others as He has loved us.