"[Jesus] welcomes sinners and eats with them." - Luke 15:2
A young married couple find their money disappearing and their credit cards running amok, until they draw up a budget and measure where it’s all going to. So much in life doesn’t count unless you count it carefully.
"I give you a new commandment, that you love one another."
In too many governments around the world, and perhaps even here, the competitive spirit of partisanship and winning overtakes the basic task of government, that is to be in a healthy and positive relationship with the people. In too many churches, perhaps your own, the routine of being churchy has buried the joy of being in fellowship with each other and in love with Christ.
Jesus doesn’t distinguish between type one enemies and type three enemies. He doesn’t distinguish between moderate enemies and total jerks. He doesn’t have one response for those who are merely annoying and another for enemies who are dangerous. He says, “Love them all.”
Pittsburghers are prone to think that Jesus borrowed the words, "Love your neighbor as yourself," from Mr. Rogers. Actually, "Love your neighbor" can be found in every one of the world's great religions.
"They were amazed by Jesus, because he taught with authority"
Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to those he left behind so that they might have his authority to go into this hurting world and be compassionate. Anyone who knows Jesus can be “an authority” by simply choosing to love the people around them without compromise.
Jesus is friends with Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. It is a relationship that exceeds the one he has with the twelve disciples. The intimate phrase that Martha uses when she calls Jesus to come to Bethany is “the one whom you love…” The disciples don’t question Jesus’ love for Lazarus. They simply think that going to a village two miles away from Pilate, Herod, and the Sanhedrin is insane. Love for our friends can be insane.
I suspect that Jesus has known these people from childhood. I am currently working on a novel about this friendship titled “Bethany’s People” (look for it in Lent of 2018). John’s Gospel has Jesus going frequently to Jerusalem; and Jesus doesn’t go as a tourist. He seems to know the place like a native. Bethany is only two miles from Jerusalem. It was Jesus’ habit to stay there.
One of the embarrassing things about our faith is that our entire theology can be expressed in three words of less than four letters. This fact, combined with the difficulty many of us have with practicing what we say we know, leads us to want to fancy up Jesus. Maybe my intellect would be happier with Scientology or some contemporary form of Gnosticism. Yet, God is love — and those who know this must also love.
I have been helped lately by hearing W. Craig Gilliam from Perkins and www.justpeaceumc.org, speak about Martin Buber’s I-Thou. It too, is a simple concept. Every social interaction involves either my treating the other as an IT, or my being aware of them as human, endowed with the full range of feelings that I have, and loved by God by the same grace that I depend upon. Take what should be an easy place to practice this, the daily interaction between two people in a long term committed relationship. Dr. Gillian points out that his wife knows when he has treated her as an IT. This is the hitch in our conversations, especially with people who know us well, we expect them to respond to what we have said, instead they respond to the actual I-IT attitude that was behind our speech.
Life is, in its simplest telling, a journey story. This is why our hearts are drawn to stories like the Hobbit, the Exodus, and Homer’s Odyssey. Psalm 139 tells us that the journey has purpose. It assures me that [God has] searched out my path and my lying down, and is acquainted with all my ways. Such knowledge is overwhelming. Whatever you say about this Psalm, don’t water down the intense and poetic way it expresses God’s love for us as individuals.
Our faith provides our life with meaning, by stating that God has established both our beginning and our end, within his great loving plan. We as individuals have dignity. Spirituality is an unfolding process of discovering that the journey in between has both beauty and purpose. It all happens for a reason.
Someone has said that life isn’t a problem to be solved, it’s an adventure to be lived. One can extend this concept to ones personal relationships. My spouse, and how we live together, isn’t a problem to be solved. My spouse is a blessing to be loved. Our children and the people who depend upon my nuture, aren't problems to be solved. My church isn’t a problem for my denominational leader to solve. Even if the church decides to burn me at the stake and renege on their mission share (denominational apportionments).
They drive you crazy and yet you can’t get rid of them. The Abraham to Joseph story cycle (Genesis 12 through 50), makes you wonder if God made a point of choosing the most dysfunctional family in the Middle East. Perhaps we are meant to be assured that having insanity practically gallop (see Arsenic and Old Lace) through your intimate relationships will not disqualify you from being God’s people. What is it about family?
One thing to start with: the theme of a family’s particular difficulties tends to be repeated from generation to generation. The only way to break the cycle is to do what Joseph did at the end of Genesis; confront, bring out into the open, and then forgive. Family systems work often begins with drawing a genogram (see John Bradshaw, Family Secrets) so that the broken relationships of the family can be shown repeating from generation to generation.