When the kids were little, I’d tell them to do something, “Go brush your teeth.” And then I’d tell them again…and again. In between reminders, they’d come and keep asking things- “Mom, Mom…” followed by a question- “do I have to put water on the brush first, what if I don’t rinse? You said 2 minutes but I have homework..” Sorting out how much I REALLY meant what I asked. Trying to distract me from expecting it. Question after question. Sometimes they must’ve seen me cringe or hear my exasperation as I heard, “Mom, Mom…” and I said NOW WHAT? They’d reply, “I love you” and run off. So much energy used up avoiding what I asked. All I really wanted them to do was something that was good for them, because I loved them. Today we pick up the gospel when Jesus has already encountered the Pharisees, the Herodians, and the Sadducees all attempting to derail and discredit his teaching about what God means in the laws given to the people. Now they send in the EXPERT. He’s the guy who knows all 631 laws and everything the rabbis have said about them. Because somewhere between Mount Sinai and that day, all the questions led to new laws beyond the first Ten. Following every little detail would be impossible SO with 631 laws, “tell me which ones are the important ones, Teacher.” The EXPERT hoped to win on a technicality. But Jesus reorients it all. He says it’s all important, because it comes down to orienting our lives to God and each other in love. Way back when God liberated the people of Israel, God reminded them why, and then gave the commandments with these words- “Because I am holy, YOU are to be holy.” The law was a gift to guide us to live as we’re made. To be holy- to reflect God’s love. Because God desires that all people flourish and have abundant life because God loves us- it’s all about love. And we need to know how to love.
We question and we try going through the motions. Like a man who knew how much his beloved loved roses. When they’d dated, he bought her a dozen roses- a splurge, but she delighted in them and their love grew. So he kept it up week after week. Then he found a florist who had a deal- a dozen roses for three dollars- how could you go wrong? The roses were confiscated in drug raids. Distributors from Colombia would hide packets of cocaine in them. After the big drug bust, law enforcement could care less where the flowers ended up. Week after week, roses. She had no idea. When money got tight she told him that she adored the roses, but they were an extravagance she could forgo to meet their needs- hers and his. He made the mistake of blurting out-“BUT THEY ONLY COST THREE DOLLARS!” Oops. Now from her perspective they were no longer a loving gesture- but a throwaway. He wondered why she didn’t appreciate his effort however flawed. After all, hadn’t he mastered the “give your wife nice things” law? It’s easy to get love wrong.
We struggle with just how far God expects us to go and what’s good enough. Being holy is being distinct from our world, yet it’s hard to maintain this attitude when our culture tells us that there are people and things we can cross of the list. There have to be limits-ways we try to make God’s law fit ours. Times when saying “I love you” from a distance without offering more ought to count. It shows up in our questions: Should we really invest in a program if we don’t get anything back- if it doesn’t add to our membership rolls? Should we bother if people aren’t responsible enough, or don’t love us back in the way we want? When we’re asked to do more for ALL of our neighbors-How far do we really have to go, God? ALL feels too hard and we don’t wanna. We wrestle with questions and yet sometimes realize we’ve pushed the limit with the Holy One and hope saying “I love you” is enough. God is holy and we are different. This is our history.
It’s a good thing God is different. God’s role in the relationship shows God liberates Israel even while knowing there’s a golden calf just on the other side of that mountain. God redeems people who find any reason to try to turn off the voice of the prophets and Jesus himself. God forgives even when we walk away from the truth we find so different from us that calls us to eat less so others can eat, even “the lazy ones.” To care for people who are sick and disabled even when their condition is self-created. To reach out and love people who won’t show us the love, gratitude or affirmation of our actions we desire. To keep loving even when the world will despise or ridicule us for doing so. This is God’s love. That same love that tells us-You may think others are too different from you and unworthy. They may be different from you, but you are all the same kind of different from me. Yet I love you all.” The whole point of God’s framework for our lives is rooted in this love.
We can’t just memorize it or go through the motions of what looks good. That’s like a throwaway “I love you” or castaway roses- we know how we’d feel. And we can’t require an emotional connection in order to offer love. God’s love is cycle of being that says that “loving all of our neighbors is loving God” AND “loving God means ordering our lives in God’s arrangement so all of our neighbors are loved.” No matter what. This is Jesus’example. He endured the tedious questions and rejection of His message, and walked with the failed attempts of those wanting to follow who find they can’t. And in the midst of it all, embodies the real HOPE of the gospel- God’s love for us all is SO BIG it goes to the cross to promise forgiveness again and again. Forgiveness for those we think have fallen short, for us when we fail to see our limits, and for the times we suddenly grasp just how far off base we really are. Forgiveness: Christ’s body and blood- FOR ALL. That’s a whole lotta love. May we again see signs of God’s love, and stand in awe. Then be empowered to go forth and live God’s message in the world that LOVE really IS the whole point.
art by Liz Hicks http://blogerisms.blogspot.com/2010/10/love-is-whole-point.html