It seems like we’re entering times of political and societal strain. Although I feel more stressed about what is going on around the world, I know that things aren’t actually worse than they used to be. Recently, it seems as though we are hearing more troubling news, but people before us have lived through worse times than these. Here in North America, for example, we live with the after-effects of global wars, slavery and residential schools. However, we can’t forget that many people who have gone before us have actually lived through those times. I consider myself privileged to be able to think about messages of hate and violence from the safety of a warm house.
But why care? Why worry about what is happening in remote Indigenous communities in Canada, in countries devastated by hurricanes, or protests throughout the NFL? In one sense, this doesn’t affect me at all. But in the light of the call of Jesus, it affects me deeply.
Jesus came preaching a message that was so counter-cultural, He was killed for it. And at the core of Jesus’ message was an invitation for all people to experience the grace, love, forgiveness, acceptance and transformation of God. It’s an invitation to take on a new identity as children of God and to live life as it was meant to be lived (John 1:1-13).
And herein lies one of the most revolutionary ideas about the message of Jesus. The Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day had little trouble with God’s love and forgiveness. They understood and accepted it. That was good news. It’s the fact that God’s love and forgiveness was offered to all people that got the religious elite upset. Why did Jesus hang out and party with tax collectors, prostitutes, the crippled and lame, Samaritans and Gentiles? These were outcasts and enemies. They were unclean, unworthy, godless and disgusting.
There is little difference today. Let’s just be honest with ourselves. There are people in this world whom we don’t like. There are cultures that we don’t appreciate and people groups that we look down upon. This kind of outlook on others may be misguided, ill-informed and closed-minded, but we all do it. We all have people we consider to be less than us.
The gift of God through Jesus is that new life is offered to all people, even those who seem so opposite to us that we consider them our enemies. God loves you no more than He loves them. He died for them no more than He died for you.
So what should we do when we encounter people who are so differently minded than us? Who have a different skin colour, culture, worldview or political affiliation than us? Who seem to be out to hurt us? What about those in our own circles that we simply don’t get along with? What about friends and family who, because of their choices or our actions, have broken trust with us?
Should we ask Jesus these questions? That would seem like a great thing to do if we want to be His followers. But I think there is a piece of us that hesitates to hear and do what Jesus tells us to do. It’s like my niece who asks me if she can have more iced tea after a two cups, hoping I'll say "yes" because she knows her parents will say "no." Although we may not like it, most of the time the response of a loving parent is the best for us.
So what’s Jesus’ response when His disciples ask Him how many times they should forgive someone (Matthew 18:21-35)? Peter probably thought he was being generous when he suggested 7. Jesus blew that number out of the water by saying, “not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” In other words, however far you thought you should go, you need to go much, much further. Forgive those who wrong you, just as the Father forgave you (Colossians 3:13).
And what was Jesus’ response when a religious expert asked Him who his neighbours are that he is supposed to love (Luke 10:25-37)? Jesus told the parable of the good Samaritan. That’s a tough one because in it we learn that those whom we have already written off, Jesus calls us to love. And that love is not based on emotions, it's based on action. When the Samaritan loved his neighbour, who was also a cultural enemy, he didn't try to get butterflies in his stomach. He chose to give his time and his money for the man who was suffering.
And what was Jesus’ response when Peter tried to defend his Lord and Saviour by attacking a soldier with a sword as Jesus was being arrested (Mathew 26:47-56)? He told Peter to put his sword away because “all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.” Jesus then went on to heal the soldier who arrested Him and led Him to His trial.
We can go on and on with the many times Jesus told His followers to love each other, exercise forgiveness, pray for their enemies, and do good to to those that hurt them. At the core of Jesus’ teaching is a level and depth of love that many of us are afraid to reach. Sure, it’s good for us to love ourselves and to love our family and friends. Sure, we are being good people when we love those people who love us back. But that’s where many of us draw the line. The love of Jesus goes deeper. Much deeper. Paul explains it to us in Romans:
“Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” - Romans 5:7-8
Jesus didn’t wait for our commitment to Him before demonstrating His love for us. He gave it in the midst of our rebellion and brokenness. He loved and forgave His enemies even while they watched Him die on the cross. It’s amazing that we can experience that. But the depth of love that we receive is the same kind of love we are called to show the world. After what God has done for us, there is no excuse we can bring that somehow this or that person is exempt or that our role as followers of Jesus changes depending on how we feel about a person.
So, are we willing to take Jesus seriously about love? Are we ready to go deep with our love, not just with those who love us back, but even with those who we may call our enemies? We like to experience God's love for us. We enjoy talking and singing about it. In fact one of my favourite hymns is "How Deep the Father’s Love for Us." But as we sing and praise God for His amazing love for us, let's not forget that we are called to go and do likewise.