Focus on Christ Meditations: 43. Accepting Love (2)
Jn 8:11 “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
We started, in the previous study, considering how Jesus showed love to those he encountered and we considered, in general, the ‘sinners and tax-collectors’ and then the specific case of Zacchaeus as we saw Jesus love expressed as unconditional acceptance. Now having said it was unconditional we have to note three things, as we seek to understand Jesus’ love.
First, the very nature of God IS love (1 Jn 4:8,16) and that means that everything God thinks, says or does is an expression of love and so, because Jesus is the Son of God, we may expect him to express this same unchanging and therefore unconditional love.
Second, His expression of love will vary (although His love doesn’t) and so we see Jesus responding differently to a) his disciples, who he knew were imperfect but expected to change and so chided on occasions of ‘little faith’, b) the crowds who he accepted would often be there for what they could get from him – healing or food – and nevertheless gave them those things as well as his teaching and then finally, c) what I will call the ‘religious antagonists’, those who purported to represent God but who were, in reality’ far from true representatives and were out for themselves, and they he rebuked soundly. Each expression IS an expression of love: expectations of his disciples, acceptance of limited understanding of the crowds, and challenging the intransigent hardness of heart of the religious apparent leaders of society.
Third, Jesus’ love is long-term and ultimate and so although he may have to chide his disciples, tolerate but bless the crowds, and rebuke the antagonists, he is doing these things in his desire for the best of each of them in the long-term. For his disciples he raised the bar of expectation for them, so they would grow in faith, and that would sometimes involve chiding them when they didn’t rise to it – because he knew they could! For the crowds his hope was ever that they would hear his teaching and see beyond the miracles and realise God was also calling them to follow. As the parable of the Sower shows, he knew that some would hear but ignore, some would hear, follow, but then give up, and so it was only a limited percentage who would hear, eventually respond, become his followers and become fruitful. For the antagonists, within their ranks he knew there were those whose hearts were questioning and although mostly they had gone along with the rest, nevertheless their questioning hearts might hear, respond and bring them though. Nicodemus was such an example (see Jn 3:1-, 7:50, 19:39)
Perhaps we should add a fourth important thing and that is that the expression of love by Jesus will be unique to the person before him. Love is not a mechanical thing, it reaches out to bless the person before it – in whatever way is pertinent to them. There are three people in particular who we find in the Gospels, who come to mind.
The first is the adulterous woman, apparently caught in adultery (but where is the man?), who is brought before Jesus. (Jn 8:3-11) It is a group of the ‘antagonists’ – teachers of the Law and Pharisees – who bring her to Jesus. They point out that the Law required stoning for such a woman, so what does Jesus say about it? Presumably they either want him to be harsh and conform to the Law and condemn here, or let her off and appear to be a Law-breaker. A no-win situation! But this is the Son of God, and love sees a way through and wisdom prevails. OK, he says, whoever of you have never sinned, you can be the first to cast a stone. They go silent and sidle away. Reality prevails and Jesus has loved her and accepted her, but he’s still got her best in mind when he says, “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (v.11). He knows the truth about her but he’s more concerned to redeem her than condemn her. Nothing that we have done pushes the love of Jesus away.
The second is a leper who came to Jesus: “A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cured of his leprosy.” (Mt 8:2,3) Now lepers were among the outcasts that we mentioned previously, unable to be touched by anyone and living in little communities out of town. So this man comes with faith in Jesus and Jesus heals him, but that is not the point that screams out at us – it is that Jesus reached out and touched the man BEFORE he was healed. If that is not a sign of loving acceptance, I don’t know what is. It is almost as if Jesus makes the point and says, nothing can come between you and your unclean nature, and me. Nothing that we are pushes away the love of Jesus.
The third is the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn 4). It is midday and Jesus is resting while the disciples go into Samaria for provisions. This woman comes to get water. The fact that it is midday and in the worst heat of the day is the first clue that she is an outcast from society. Jesus asks her to draw water for him. He has just crossed two cultural divides. First because she was a woman and second because she was a Samaritan, disliked by the Jews for their history. No respectable Jewish man traveling would have spoken to her. The fact that she is there at that time also presupposes she is not someone a respectable Jews should encounter – but Jesus does. After teasing her with talk about ‘living water’ he suddenly says, “Go, call your husband and come back.” (4:16) She responds, “I have no husband.” (4:17)
True but only half the truth. Jesus faces her with the truth revealing his prophetic insight: “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” (4:17,18) Wow! Look at that, the truth squashed between two affirmations: “You are right when you say you have no husband…. What you have just said is quite true.” These two are indeed affirmations but in so doing they almost accentuate the fact that she has not spoken the important part of her situation.
Now to understand this situation we must realise that divorce was instigated by the husband and so five times this girl has been rejected by men and she is now living with a man who has not committed himself to her. In our modern Western societies, it is the fear of rejection, of not being loved, that makes so many young girls and women give way to the desires of men, not realizing that is not sex that brings love. Now if you read on you will see that she sidesteps this and Jesus does NOT bring her back to it. It is enough that he knows and she knows he knows! The conversation that follows reveals him as messiah and she accept that and goes and tells others about him. No, we don’t know if she changed her lifestyle but it is probable. Cultural divides and dysfunctional lifestyles will not push away the love of Jesus.
So here is love looking beyond the sin to redemption, looking beyond the uncleanness to the person, looking beyond the cultural divides and utterly dysfunctional lifestyle to the person. How often do we allow sin, ‘uncleanness’, prejudice and a dysfunctional lifestyle, to keep us from touching the person with love, Jesus’ love? Time for change?