August 28, 2016
Fort Carson, CO
On Friday night I got to go to an event with my unit at a place called Paint the Town. It was in a little art studio and they had canvases and paint and everything we needed to be artists. All we had to do was decide what to create. All around the room there were examples and ideas. The sky was the limit. As I was walking around the room I was drawn to a simple depiction of a church and a tree, and down one side of the canvas was a quote. It said, “I have found the paradox that if you love until it hurts there can be no more hurt, only more love.” Think about that… “I have found the paradox that if you love until it hurts there can be no more hurt, only more love.”
I wonder if any of you can guess who said this. Your hint is that she is one of the most well known nuns of the 20th century? Mother Theresa. And wouldn’t she know this through her own experiences of loving and caring for many people over her lifetime, the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And through acts of love and care, this is what she discovered. Beyond the pain and heartache and loss which often accompany love, there is an even deeper, greater love waiting on the other side.
All throughout the gospels Jesus talks about love. Love of God and of neighbors and even of enemies. Interestingly, though, in today’s passage, the word love doesn’t come up once. But, even without saying love, I think Jesus is still talking about it. In these verses Jesus talks about what it looks like to follow the spirit of the law versus just the law, what it means to be humble, and finally, what generosity should be, giving without conditions. In a way, all of these smaller messages help us understand the bigger concept of unconditionality. Unconditional is a pretty familiar word. Some of its synonyms are:
Wholehearted, unqualified, unreserved, unlimited, unrestricted, unmitigated, unquestioning; complete, total, entire, full, absolute
But its one thing to know a definition and it is another thing altogether to really know what something looks like in the flesh. Think about it, unconditionality is pretty rare. Most of the time there are strings attached. Today, though, Jesus is teaching us, really he is showing us, what unconditional means. First, it is not something that happens on our timeline. Jesus didn’t ask the sick man to come back again the next day when it wasn’t the Sabbath. Jesus doesn’t tell him that he is busy because he is having dinner with some important people. He simply identifies the man’s need and heals him.
This reminds me of good parenting, good leadership, and good ministry. It’s almost never on your schedule. Unconditional and convenient do not typically go together either. How many times has a squad leader or a 1SG pulled into the driveway just in time to get a phone call which compels him or her to turn around and go back to work to be there for a soldier in need. Or maybe you are just sitting down to dinner when the baby cries because she is hungry or needs to be changed. Just this week, one of my pastor mentors had to miss almost a week of her vacation because one of her parishioners died. Changing an international flight is not inexpensive, but she is this family’s pastor, and they needed her to do his funeral. Because she loves them so well, it was an easy decision to make. Unconditionality is not on your timeline.
The second thing that Jesus teaching here is that unconditional is not about getting anything in return. This might be the hardest lesson for me or anyone else out there who is inclined to keep score. In my old job, one of the chaplains would have to carry a pager at all times and that person would have to come to work about an hour earlier. We passed it around and depending on how many chaplains were in the office at any given time, we might have the pagers two or three times in one week. We would help each other out if someone had to go to an appointment or a meeting. I would always say preface asking for help with the offer that I would be willing to do the same on a different day. And one of my colleagues would always say to me, “Mel, we don’t have to keep track. I will help you if you need it.”
Jesus says to invite people to your banquet who can’t afford to throw one themselves… that way you know you are inviting them for the sake of extending an invitation and not because you will get anything in return. But this is hard for some of us. Because when we do something loving or thoughtful, we are looking to have the gesture returned. It’s not the only reason we act kindly, but when we don’t feel like our efforts are reciprocated, we get annoyed or disappointed. Its as if we view our offering as more of a one for one exchange rather than a gift.
In a consumer driven society, we all know that you can’t get something for nothing, even when advertisements and other sales gimmicks try to lure us in with the word “free.” We know we can’t believe it. But in every way, unconditional really does mean free, without any strings. I think it is what Mother Theresa was talking about when she spoke of love. Her ministry was a free gift to whoever needed it. And, she learned by giving it without any strings attached that the love, rather than the hurt, in her life kept growing.
Our scripture today tells two stories, one about God and the other about us. This is what we learn about God. Jesus is willing to heal the man even though it is on the Sabbath and the Pharisees are watching him closely. Healing the sick man, being present for him in his suffering, is more important than any judgment Jesus may face for breaking the rules. Jesus moves toward suffering knowing that it will hurt. This is what God does. God enters into whatever pain exists and shares the hurt without any conditions. God’s love for us is always unconditional.
The story about us isn’t fully written. There is a big question mark going into the conclusion chapter. The Pharisees certainly represent a facet of human character, the parts of us that like to have things on our time or need to keep score. But besides reminding us of our tendencies to be very conditional with out love, this passage is an invitation to us. We are invited to follow in God’s footsteps. Jesus demonstrates the meaning of unconditional love and generosity, but we don’t really know the rest of the story. Did some of those Pharisees grow and learn? Did some of them stop keeping score so much and instead become more loving? Did some of them stop worrying so much about God’s business and start focusing on who they were called to be?
I think it’s the same for us. Jesus invites us to live unconditionally. Every day is an opportunity to follow in His footsteps. To grow and learn and be transformed more into God’s image. To stop worrying about the score and to start loving more freely, more completely, without any limits. To stop worrying so much about God’s business and start focusing on who we are called to be. If we do this, I think we will discover the paradox that Mother Theresa was talking about… that if we love unconditionally, if we love until it hurts, there will be no more hurt, only more love. Amen