Jesus: Great Love, Great Challenge
"People say hate is a strong word but so is love, and people throw that around like it's nothing."
– The Internet
The message Jesus came to share, the one He offered every day with his whole being and actions, was love. Not hate, not rules, not about the importance of bringing a casserole to the church picnic, though that's not a bad thing either, it wasn't about that as much as it was about love. Throughout Jesus's whole life, love was threaded into everything He did.
We tend to think love is one of those softer emotions, like it's an emotion that's not hard to come by nor hard to do. We think it's all pink and roses and kisses and being kind. It's laughing babies and easy smiles. We tend to think it's soft, because it is a tender skill, but did you ever think about how challenging it truly is?
Do any of us really know how challenging it is to love someone until we're knee-deep in it?
Just ask the couple that's been married for fifteen years. They will tell you what true love is, and at the fifteen-year mark it's certainly beyond fairytales and way past the honeymoon phase of being superbly kind to one another.
Fifteen years in, there have been fights and disagreements and hurts along the way. But at fifteen years in, there have also been resolutions, deep mercies and a strong call to love each other, no matter what. That is love, and that's a lot stronger and bolder than a pale pink carnation on a spring afternoon.
Just ask anyone deep in prayer during church. Just ask the person in the row in front someone who is opening a mint during a pivotal point in the prayer or sermon what love is. It's overlooking a deep multitude of sins, including loud wrapper openings and too-loud whispers during quiet times. And at times, can we all admit it's hard to overlook the humanness of others? Cultivating that sort of deep love, compassion and kindness — is truly hard and something that you have to work at and try hard at every single time.
Great love is challenging. So challenging in fact even Jesus had a hard time with it. Yes, even Jesus. Why? Well, humans being so human.
There's a passage in Mark 8, verse 12 where Jesus gives a great example of this – how exactly challenging it is to love, lest we think it's some small task like leaning down to tie a shoelace.
There are two places Jesus becomes exasperated with the whole human business. First, with the Pharisees where they keep asking for a sign, and finally Jesus says, what's with all the need for the signs?
But the kicker is that before that, he does this: "…and he sighed deeply in his spirit and said why does this generation ask for a sign?" Did you catch that? "Sighed deeply within himself."
Now, I don't know about you, but that's a Jesus I can get behind, because A) it confirms I'm not the only one who's done this, this internal eye-roll equivalent of impatience and B) it shows you how exactly difficult this is if EVEN JESUS sighed to himself about people being a little too people-like.
Later in the passage around verse 21, he also gets a little exasperated with the disciples. So again, Jesus then is my person as the disciples are Jesus’s own people, the ones of His own choosing. It shows you not only how patient Jesus can be, but also to some degree, what an enormous challenge we have set before us if even Jesus can get worn down by this whole notion of loving people as they are, and in this case, it goes far beyond the predicable easiness of being kind that so often comes with the territory of dating or as a quaint, tender scene with mother and child.
Let's be honest. The call to love one another exactly as they are is one of the harder things about the Christian faith.
The loving them exactly as they are – the whole lot of them (which of course, by "them" I mean "us," as we are all those people at one point in time) is a choice you have to keep making, whether or not you agree with the other person.
Loving someone, at least in the terms Jesus defined it – is loving them not when they are kinder, more patient, less ornery and more thankful about life but exactly as they are – grouchy as a rattlesnake that's been stepped on, as patient as a cat in a room of rocking chairs, and loving them when they are more bitter than grateful. That's our call. The call to love is simply that – love. And it could not be more challenging.
It's also a holy call, although it doesn't feel like it and frequently presents itself in small ways, like forgiving that person who cut in front of you on the highway. It feels a lot like forgiving your child the tenth time that evening they ask for candy after dinner, it feels a lot like letting "The Thing" go, you know, "The Thing" your spouse does that, depending upon your constitution, either makes you want to climb the walls or run away, or both.
Love, in all its forms, feels a lot like hard work.
It feels and looks a lot like real life, and though we sell hard it on Valentine's Day with hearts and swirly letters and softness, we tend to forget that love is gritty and hard.
It's the constant grit and roughness like sand under our feet, this loving and forgiving the small annoyances of everyday life and people. We keep thinking that love naturally comes in waves, that as much as we put in we get out, and that another wave of love and appreciation will come soon. But most days it doesn't work like that. Most days, love is a lot more like weeding and pulling up roots and staying firm amidst the constant storms of life than it is about flowers and sweetly-scented perfume.
This is not meant to discourage us of course, as we all need to work on loving each other, in whatever form that comes: bringing someone a meal, lending an ear to a someone whose problem you can do nothing about, or something as simple and complicated as walking along aside someone throughout their life.
But love – in whatever form it comes – forgiveness, mercy, tenderness, care, or even grace for the spouse that tends to not use a napkin, is well worth it.
I'm here to remind you that it's still exceedingly hard, but choosing to love day by day, moment by moment, is still worth it.
After all, isn't that what Jesus did?