Love. Hard. Period.

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A teacher of the law asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Rather than answer his question, Jesus countered and asked the teacher to define the law himself and the teacher replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Agreeing to the teacher’s answer, Jesus said, “If you do this you will have eternal life.”

But the teacher wasn’t satisfied. He wanted to test Jesus further. “Who exactly is my neighbor?”

Rising to the challenge, Jesus proceeded to point to the one who was most vilified in their society – the Samaritan. The one who was religiously and culturally different from this teacher – and who was consistently exploited for being so – was the very one whom God called him to love. To embrace. To treat neighborly. To display kindness, mercy and humility toward.

Jesus did not stop there. He not only professed love for the socially outcast but built an entire ministry around other marginalized identities including the poor, the widow, the orphan, the prostitute, sinners, women, children and more, showing that true disciples of Christ show mercy and love to all people without distinction. In his ministry to the outcast, Jesus demanded very little of these people, in fact, he continually claimed that the kingdom of God belonged to those at the margins of society saying, “Blessed are you who are poor, meek, merciful, pure in heart, and persecuted for righteousness sake – for yours in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5.3 – 12, NRSV). And at the same time, he continually condemned those in power who were responsible for the marginalized’s misery.

In our day and time, we must consider Jesus’ words and ministry like never before. His injunction to love others unapologetically still applies and this application is not up for debate if we truly do believe that the Word of God is true! In this political moment, the personhood of many immigrant and refugee groups – including Muslims and Latinos – is being called into question as leaders in our nation attempt to pass laws that exclude them. Though some Evangelical leaders suggest that this is not a biblical issue, we do not get to decide what does and what does not apply. God alone calls the shots on God’s own Word, so that if He says that we need to love, we better love. Hard! If not, we have to perhaps consider that we are not only willing to disobey His Word but may be outside of the family of God.

Remember the teacher’s question to Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” For Jesus, love is not a matter of convenience or political expedience; it is a matter of eternal life. Period. In fact, all of the commandments and teachings of the law and the prophets hinge on this one single thing: love. To take it one step further, we cannot even say that we love God if we do not love others – we cannot despise those created in the image of God and still declare that we love God. For us, this means that we cannot say that we love God while simultaneously hating, despising, and oppressing Muslims and Latino immigrants and refugees. Also, remember God has a special heart for the foreigner in our land!

The biblical response to the Muslim Ban and the build the wall nonsense, is to love. And from the place of love, we speak up and speak out against everything that minimizes the personhood of others. We can do this in a myriad of ways including but not limited to writing letters to the editor of our local newspapers, speaking to our family and friends about the importance of resisting despotic policies, joining in protests that affirm the rights and dignity of the oppressed, or informing other Christians about what is going on. The form in which we engage and use our influence as believers is not as important – what is important is that we do something to extend God’s love in this moment.

Choosing to Stand for Mercy (Part 3)

On Friday, I listened to a wonderful Focus on the Family Broadcast. Tim Goeglein, former White House staffer and author of the book The Man in the Middle, shared his experience serving with former President Bush which ended when colleagues discovered that he plagiarized some of his work. Humiliated, he wanted nothing more than to simply bow out gracefully, leave without being noticed and save what could be left of his fleeting dignity.

On the day of his departure, President Bush called him into his office. Goeglein fully expected to be chastised and for good reason, what he did jeopardized Bush’s administration. Goeglein opened his mouth to apologize for his wrongdoing and was silenced by these words: Tim, I forgive you. Though surprised, Goeglein tried once again to make amends for his indiscretions. And once again he was silenced by the President’s remarks: I have known grace and mercy in my life, and I am extending it to you. Tim, I forgive you.

Forgiveness. Mercy. They almost seem like foreign concepts in a world that is often unforgiving and unloving. As a people, we tend to have such a hard time forgiving others for what they have done whether or not it affects us directly. We don’t forgive those who have cheated us or done us harm, but we also do not forgive those who stumble into sin – especially if said sin is exposed in public. In both instances, we believe that the person accused of wrongdoing should receive the strictest form of punishment and under no circumstances should ever receive mercy or forgiveness. The elder brother in the story of the Prodigal Son serves as a great example for us.

As many of you probably already know, the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 (the Bible) inquired after his father’s wealth while he was still living. Although he was the younger son, he still was due a portion of his father’s inheritance after his passing, but he wanted it now which basically said that he also wanted his father dead. Even so, the father gave him his inheritance and the son went away and blew it all. After all his wealth was gone, and he found himself in hunger and poverty, he decided to go back to the father and repent and ask for forgiveness. Not only did the father forgive him but he threw him a huge feast in his honor, celebrating that he had come home.

The elder son was absolutely furious over his father’s actions. How could he just forgive this impetuous son of his and act like he had done nothing wrong? How could the father just throw the younger son a celebratory party when he had never done the same for the elder son in all of his righteousness. But hear the father’s response:

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” (Luke 15. 31, 32 TNIV).

The real tragedy of this story, however, isn’t that the elder son was unforgiving. The real tragedy is that he himself did not realize how much he too had been a recipient of his father’s forgiveness and mercy. In all of his pride and self-righteousness and probably a host of other things that the Bible does not mention, his father had also shown him kindness and favor. And so, his reaction to his younger brother is not only inappropriate but hypocritical in that he was in need of the same grace that he envied his brother for receiving.

The Bible tells us this in Ephesians 4.32 – Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (NIV). God has forgiven each and everyone of us for so much. Although we will never understand the gravity of our sin, we know assuredly that while we were still wrapped up in our sin and depraved minds that Christ died for us, granting us immediate forgiveness and connection with the God that we willingly denied and walked away from. If God, in all of his righteousness and holiness can forgive a people who have completely blown it, how much more should you and I forgive one another?

We forgive because we have been forgiven. We walk and stand for mercy, because we have been shown mercy. We cast aside bitterness and resentment and the right to avenge because we understand that we really don’t have this right at all. We give up the right to hold a grudge and instead allow God to be God and deal with it on his own terms. And whose to say, perhaps in our doing so the person who is on the other end of it might just be transformed as they look at us and see the very likeness of God in our choosing to forgive and stand for mercy.

This post is the final installment of a three part series. See other posts:
Choosing to Stand for Justice
Choosing to Stand for Righteousness