HE JUST LOVED THEM THERE
“Isn’t it interesting that the one person who never suffered from a Messiah complex was the Messiah himself?” — Philip Yancey
Have you seen the protestors who attend the funerals of failed soldiers? Their banner scream, “God hates you!” “You’re going to Hell!”? Thus they protest against government policies they claim God punishes by death in battle. They claim they stand against immorality and godlessness. No one has responded favorably to them or their tactics.
Something similar used to occur in Memphis on Saturday nights. A group of people would march through infamous Beale Street carrying banners. These banners told of impending doom due to a Saturday night-lifestyle of bars and clubs, and the group handed out fear-inducing tracts while sermonizing through megaphones. While not as malicious as funeral protestors, these people did provoke a kindred response from people: alienation, disgust, confusion.
Obviously these people want to convey what they perceive is God’s displeasure with certain lifestyle choices. Yes, they may only convey their own displeasure, but they think they do what’s right. They also, when their motives remain pure, seek to encourage others to change.
When we want others to do something differently, we scold, yell, condemn, push and cajole them into what we believe is best. This, despite the fact that we sometimes miss what is best for anyone. But was this Jesus’ way?
To the woman caught in adultery, Jesus said, “I do not condemn you. Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11). To Thomas, the disciple who couldn’t believe Jesus had returned, Jesus said, “Reach here with your finger, and see my hands…do not be unbelieving, but believing.” (John 20:27) To the chief tax collector Zacchaeus, Jesus said, “I must stay at your house” (Luke 19:5). To a woman who lived a wanton life, Jesus told her of “food to eat [she did] not know about” (John 4:31). To James and John, who wanted to call down fire on people, he said that he “came to save men’s lives, not to destroy them” (Luke 9:56).
This way stands in contrast to our own.
His acceptance of people didn’t offer them a license to sin or to continue in it. Rather, his love moved them to desire change. He didn’t leave them where they were; he loved them where they were, and in doing so he loved them to freedom. This kind of love challenges us because we esteem cutthroat fairness and stringent justice, we fear that such love will lead only to tolerate, not to change.
Jesus understood that people require the messy work of love. To chastise, however, is easier and cheaper. But love takes much time, enduring patience, courageous acceptance and a bold willingness. Perhaps, though, love will eventually alter the way a person behaves and lives. But perhaps not. To love without a finish line.
At the end of any day, all we can control is how we respond to others, how we engage the world. How we do so – with love – matters much more than how others behave. I cannot control how you behave. But with Jesus loving me here, where I am I might be able to love you where you are. And that makes all the difference.
Think of one friend who habitually does something of which you disapprove. How have you talked to this person about this behavior?
What response have you seen?
Does your approach look like Jesus?
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