Posts Tagged ‘love’

Getting It All Together

missing piece“Therefore, you shall be complete just like your Father in heaven is complete.” –Matthew 5:48

Is there something missing in your life?  What Jesus seems to be saying to his followers is that we can be whole.   Some Bible translations use the word ‘perfect’ instead of ‘complete’ but that completely misses Christ’s intention.  (Be perfect!?!)  What a horrible way to translate a perfectly good word.  The Greek word means completion or wholeness.  It gives the sense of having all of the pieces in place.  There is no way that Jesus calls us to be perfect!  He is human.  He knows what we go through.  How can we be perfect when it is so easy to spill milk or stub a toe?

Yet Jesus wants those people who climb the mountain with him to be complete, not flawless.  What does that mean?  Being complete, or whole, means that we have integrity.  We are whole when we are able to integrate all that we think, feel, and act together.   To use the great psychologist, Carl Rogers, phrase, Jesus wants us to have ‘congruence’ so that our actions match our beliefs, and vice versa.  “Congruence,” explains Rogers, “Is . . . an accurate matching of experiencing and awareness.”  It is ensuring that all of our inner desires and thoughts go along with our life experiences.  A baby has congruence.  It is perhaps the only time in our lives when our emotions match our actions.  We smile, giggle, and coo when we are content.  A baby cannot hide her or his feelings very well.

Another way to explain Jesus’ imperative is to remember the flight instructor in the movie, Top Gun.  Do you remember when he says, “Your ego is writing checks your body can’t cash”?  I am not completely sure what he means by this funny phrase but I am pretty sure that it means to have integrity or congruence.  It is being complete.  It is doing what we believe.  It is not sounding like Isaac and feeling like Esau, to use an Old Testament reference.  Being complete is putting it all together.  It is believing, acting, speaking, and feeling all the same thing.

Jesus explains that we are complete when we love.  To be a follower of Christ, up the mountain, we can be whole, just like the Father, when we affirm the importance of others.  It is one thing to say we want to be a Christian.  But unless we act like Dad, and love, then we are missing a very important piece.

Hello

WavingAnd if you only greet your friends, how is this different from anyone else?  Even the people who do not care about doing right do that much.–Matthew 5:47

Anyone can bless another person.  We do it all the time.  Most of the time we are completely unaware of it.  It happens when we greet each other.  In fact, it seems that the greetings we give are the simplest forms of blessing.  Think about it.  There are the many phrases that we use, like “Have a good day!,” which is Bonjour in French or Buenas Dias in Spanish, or Guten Tag in German.  Some of our greetings even have blessings from God.  In German it is Grüß Gott (Greet God) or in parts of Ireland and Scotland it is Dia dhuit (God with you).  It is from a simple greeting of blessing that the English get the phrase, Goodbye, an eventual contraction of God be with ye.  Does Goodbye have the same connotation as the French adieu, Spanish adiós, Italian addio and Portuguese adeus (To God)?  There are some cultures that offer a greeting of peace, like Salaam, Shalom, or Aloha.  It is so common throughout our world to bless another person in the Name of God, even if we mean to do it or not.  Everyone greets everyone, right?

Jesus seems to explain that this is not always the case.  And if I search my heart long enough, I know it to be true as well.  There are plenty of times when I do not want to be friendly to the late night grocery store cashier or the tactless emergency room nurse or the during dinner phone solicitor.  I have no desire to give well wishes to these individuals.  They are not my ‘friends,’ to quote Jesus above.  They are not invited to my house.  I do not want to be their friend and I do not want them to be mine.  And they are not going to receive from me the simplest, cultural greeting as a blessing.  What’s funny is that I am not even talking about those individuals who may be my enemies, those people who I avoid like herpes.  Can they get a greeting from me?  Forget it.

This verse gets to the heart of Jesus’ message.  For dozens of verses now, he has been explaining the importance of other people.  (It is almost the very end of the chapter–One more verse!)  He wants his followers to worry about others, care about them, be honest with them, treat them not like objects, give them the very shirt off of your back, etc.  And now Christ explains that we need to open our mouths and at least do the very least: greet all people.  God calls us to say, “Hello,” to strangers.  God wants us to say, “Goodbye.”

The Gangster Life

gangster“What do you get out of loving the people who love you?  Don’t extortioners (tax collectors) do the same thing?”–Matthew 5:46

Our relationships have so many conditions and unwritten clauses.  We place ‘ifs’ in front of our love.  “If you do _____ and _____, I will love you.”  What Jesus asks of his disciples goes beyond the normal definition of love.  Love, as we know it, has stipulations.  We prefer our  many quid pro quos.  We want fairness: You scratch my back and I will scratch your back; you listen to me and I will listen to you; you provide me with adequate service and I will pay you the appropriate amount; you give me a Christmas card and I will send you one back; you refill my drink and I will give you a tip; you thank me and I will thank you, you love me and, guess what, I will love you back.

We sound like we are in the mafia when we do this; like being a human being entitles each of us to mob membership.  Respect becomes a requirement in our relationships.  Like Don Corleone in the Godfather movie, we too say to others, “But you don’t ask with respect.  You don’t offer friendship.  You don’t even think to call me ‘Godfather.'”  We act like gangsters when we place conditions on love.  And when we do this, we treat people like business associates rather than personal experiences.  There are gangsters who will literally break your thumbs or bomb your house or kill you if you do not do what they want.  Likewise, there are people, some claiming to follow Jesus, who act the same way, not with the same physicality but equal violence.

When we do this, we act like love-extortioners.  I love the term ‘extortioner’ rather than tax collector.  A ‘tax collector’ (like ye olde milkman) sounds like an honorable occupation but the phrase misses Jesus’ intent.  Tax collectors were extortioners in his day.  They were like the mafia.  If you pay them the right price, they ensure your protection from the Romans.  If you do not give them what they want, then you and your family can be harmed.  This is what Jesus means by this verse!  When we love people who love us back, we act like gangsters.  Christ wants his disciples to join his gang.  He wants them, and us, to give up offering love only when it can be returned.  That is what the other gangs do.  Jesus has another way.

Weeding the Garden

rain and sun“That you may be the children of your heavenly Father because he shines his sun on those who are evil and those who are good and he sprinkles rain on those who are just and those who are unjust.”–Matthew 5:45

I treat certain people like weeds and other people like plants.  Do you know what I mean?  I nourish only the relationships I want.  I really like some people, making tremendous effort to cultivate the time I have with them while ignoring the people I do not like.  Like weeds in my yard, I choke out all the unwanted relationships.  I enjoy my friends.  I love the people I like and limit those individuals who I do not like.  This makes my little garden, called life, to be filled with plants/people who pop up both wanted and unwanted.

Apparently, God does not want me to do this.  Jesus teaches his disciples to love both friends and enemies alike; to love the people I like and the people I do not like.  To be a follower of Christ I need to stop differentiating between the two and treat them equally.  Is this right?  God wants me to love people who do not want my love?  Does God want me to share my life with people who do not care about me or I do not care about them?

God does not see other people like I see them.  Who I call ‘weeds’ are not weeds at all to God.  God sees and loves all of us even the people I do not like.  It is a funny thing about God.  The Almighty treats us all the same, which means God keeps those pesky plants/people in my garden/life just like God keeps me in their garden/life.

When I work in my vegetable garden, the weeds get some of the same water intended for the vegetables.  There is nothing I can do about it.  I cannot control the rain.  It falls on the entire garden, weeds and all.  My plants and my weeds enjoy the same nourishment.  I wish that I can block the rain from landing on the weeds.  Or I wish that I can keep the sun from shining on them!  I do not want them around.  They are a nuisance yet I am forced to live with them as if they are my own!

Since unwanted people are in my garden, I might as well sprinkle and shine on them with the love of God.  It is what Dad does.

The “L” Word

truelove

But I am saying to you to love your enemies and pray on behalf of those who persecute you.–Matthew 5:44

Here’s the scene.  You’re driving with your significant other.  Out of nowhere the conversation takes a serious turn.  You discuss your future together, not just his or her future but “our” future.  You discuss possible cities to live, apartments, dog breeds you like, and everything else besides picking out curtains.  And all of a sudden you realize that the conversation is now in the deep end of the pool.  You look at her or him and, before you can stop it, your mouth utters the words that cannot be taken back.  “I love you.”  Your heart bursts out of exposed fear and/or true sentiment.  It is awkward and frightening.  Saying I love you to someone else for the first time is like being on the highest branch of a tree: either you fall to your doom or pick some of the sweetest fruit.

It is equally a big deal when Jesus finally says it.  He actually says the “L” word, love.  If I may quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Here, for the first time in the Sermon on the Mount, we meet the word which sums up the whole of its message, the word, ‘love.'”  He has tip-toed around the concept for a good while now.  Jesus explains how he wants his followers to act toward other people, like making it right with them and not retaliating and going the extra mile.  And then he just does it!  He actually speaks the word that has been on the tip of his tongue the whole time.  He wants his disciples to L-O-V-E others, and not just the people that we like.

Can God ask us to do this?  I actually give myself to another person when I love.  I trust that person enough to invest my own life into her or his life.  Love is an act of faith.  Love is faith.  The two are synonymous in scripture.  Love is so much more than a feeling.  Love is caring for and respecting another person.  It is getting to know and working for someone other than myself.   Love is the opposite of selfishness because it is otherness.  To love another person  requires so much.  It is hard work for two people to love each other, especially for two people who like one another.  Jesus wants us to do the unthinkable, to love people we do not like: those who look, sound, eat, smell different from us; those who say mean things to us; those who think it is funny when we fail; those who tell jokes about our hair color, gender, sexual orientation, race; those who do not want to be loved and those who think they do not need to be loved; those who do unspeakable acts of violence; those who pollute the air with hatred or chemicals; those who destroy art; those who never call or write us back; those who say they want to stay on our favorite team but leave when they get another offer; those who lack tact, grace, manners; those who knock us out or knock us up or never come knocking; those who are ashamed of us; those who are our enemies, whatever that may look like.

The “L” word is out of the Lord’s mouth.  There is no way we can put it back.

Friendable

“You are hearing that is was said, ‘Love your friend and hate your enemy.'”–Matthew 5:43

Me:  You seem to be using the phrase, ‘You are hearing it was said’ a lot.  What’s up with that?

Jesus: It is a teaching method I use.  (Just like you and your dialogue with me each time one of them comes up and your signs that accompany them.)  Go on.

Me: I get it.  You want us to go beyond the laws.  You want your followers to care more about people than precepts or individuals than ideology.

Jesus: That’s true.

Me: I also notice a pattern, a progression forming, if you will,  with each new law.  You aren’t going from one to the other unintentionally.

Jesus: Do I do anything unintentionally?

Me: Maybe.  But these laws seem to go from taking someone’s life to taking someone’s spouse to taking away my ability to divorce my spouse.  Then there is the taking away of my ability to make an oath and retaliate.  It is an apparent movement from myself to others.  It is much more than living within the law.  You want me to give others my life instead of taking their lives for myself.

Jesus: Of course, I do.  The laws aren’t complete.  They keep you separate from another person.  God requires more than that.

Me: It is unnatural.

Jesus:  What do you mean ‘it is unnatural’?  It is relational and it is personal.  And everything about that is natural.

Me: You don’t understand.  Being human requires self-preservation.  Right?  If I need to do it, I kill or I take another partner or I get rid of the one I have.  I need to be able to protect my honor and my possessions.  I need to place limits on how I interact with others.

Jesus: What you’re saying is exactly how you act.  You love those people you want to love and hate the people you want to hate.

Me: You want to tell me who to love now?

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