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THERE ARE IN THE NEW TESTAMENT two commands that form the heart of our response to God's love. They cannot be separated. The whole of God's will comes down to this, Jesus said, 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength; and Love your neighbor as yourself. 'The primary form that loving God takes in the Bible is loving the people who mean so much to him. In the words of Jesus: 'Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me. '
'Love me, love my rag dolls,' God says. It's a package deal.
If vile are serious about loving God, we must begin with people, all people. And especially we must learn to love those that the world generally discards.
In Jesus' day, it was the people who were most aware of their raggedness who were most open to his love. Jesus was eating one day at the home of a Pharisee named Simon, who felt, all things considered and even from God's point of view, that he really was not a difficult person to love.
A woman entered the house. Luke tells us she was 'a sinner,' which is most likely a polite way of saying she was a hooker. No doubt she was an uninvited guest, scandalizing everyone there except for the one truly holy person at the table. She had lost her reputation, a good deal of her virtue was missing, and generally speaking she'd had the stuffing knocked out of her. Her name was Pandy.
She hadn't always looked like this. There was a day when she had been someone's little girl, when someone cherished dreams for her, perhaps. When she had dreams herself, maybe. But that day had been gone a long time. It had been years since she had been in the public company of anyone respectable. It took all the courage she had to brave the looks and whispers in that room.
She stood behind Jesus, at his feet (people reclined rather than sat at a table in those days). But when she could bring herself to look into Jesus' eyes, rather than contempt she saw love.
She had brought perfume to anoint Jesus. This was generally done by pouring the perfume on the person's head. But as she watched Jesus, the tears came. Maybe she was thinking of how she earned the money to buy the perfume. Maybe she was thinking of the little girl she once was. Maybe she was thinking of the gap between who she had become and who she wanted to be. At any rate, instead of his head, she began to anoint Jesus' feet with a mixture of perfume and tears.
Then she did something. she let down her hair. This was never done. It was a violation of social custom; respectable Jewish women always kept their hair bound in public. As a prostitute, she had let down her hair many times before. And each time was another wound to her heart, another scar on her soul. But this time it was for an act of homage, to dry the feet she had bathed and anointed. She who had let down her hair so many times before let it down once more. But this was the last time. This time she got it right. The days of her raggedness were about to end.
Jesus is scandalously ready to forgive.
Simon waited for Jesus to point out who this woman was. Before we get too harsh with Simon, it's worth asking how I would have responded in his place. This woman had, after all, defied God with her life. She had lowered the standards of fidelity; she had helped wreck some homes, perhaps. It does no good to gloss over her raggedness. A word in favor of morality wouldn't seem out of place here.
But Jesus is scandalously ready to forgive. He understands as Simon does not that when there is authentic repentance the work of judgment has already been done. He points out to Simon that where Simon had neglected to provide water for Jesus' feet, she had bathed them with all that she had, mingled with tears. Where Simon had not offered him a kiss, she could not stop kissing his feet. Where Simon had not offered even inexpensive olive oil for his refreshment, she had anointed hint with expensive perfume.
Simon could not receive much love, because he clung stubbornly to the notion that he did not need much forgiveness. His very sense of moral and spiritual superiority had caused him to lose a sense of his own raggedness. And so his heart had become even more unloving and unlovely than the sinner he despised.
But she knew. The woman knew all about who she was, and she knew that Jesus knew all about her and loved her anyway. And so she was transformed. 'Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace, 'Jesus said to her, astonishing Simon even more shall his guests, and the woman more than Simon
'She may be a rag doll, 'Jesus said, 'but she's my rag doll. Love me, love my rag dolls. ' It's a package deal.
What does this miracle of love consist of? Three things, I think, form the irreducible core of what love does. And I must learn to receive each of these elements of love from God if I am to flourish as his child.
Love Means Being for the One Who Is Loved
If I love someone, it means I have certain hopes and intentions and wishes for them. I'm in their corner. I long for them to flourish and blossom. I want them to realize all their potential. I want them to become filled with virtue and moral beauty. Love desires 'that you may become blameless and pure, children of God with out fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe. . . . '
This means sometimes I may need to do that which will cause pain for the one I love. Love is often confused with softness. When we speak of doing 'the loving thing,' we sometimes think it means 'always doing what the person I love would want me to do. 'This of course is not love; it's not even sane. Try it with a three year old, and odds are she'll never make it to four.
To say Jesus loves people is not to say he'll always do what they want him to do. Dan Allender writes: 'If Christ had practiced the kind of love we advocate nowadays, he would have lived to a ripe old age. ' He goes on to say that in many cases authentic love 'will unnerve, offend, disturb, or even hurt those who are being loved. '
Being for someone is deeper than just wanting to spare them pain. If I am really for a person, I am willing to risk saying painful things, if pain is the only way to bring growth. 'For the Lord disciplines those whom he loves. 'True love is ready to warn, reprove, confront, or admonish when necessary.
We are told that we should love each other as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her so as 'to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind - yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. '
True love is ready to warn reprove confront. or admonish when necessary.