Who Loves Jesus More? {into the story}

The tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus.
{Gospel reading for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost, Luke 15:1-10}

This morning, on the one day a year the calendar explicitly tells us to cease from our labors (God suggests once per week – I prefer that rhythm), we walked to brunch at the Blue Moon, perhaps the hippest breakfast joint in town. Where else would you find a large picture of Willie Nelson hanging above the fireplace, dine amid the home turf for the Charlottesville Derby Dames (our local roller derby squad) and hear someone ordering gourmet pancakes and whisky?

The walk was perfect – the first nip of Fall and good conversation with the boys. Much of the time I spent with Seth. Lately, I’ve noticed Seth’s eagerness to be with me. We’ve always enjoyed each other; but for as long as I remember, Seth has provided me a humbling refrain: “I like you, dad. But I like mom better.” Seth never intended to wound. To him, second place is pretty darn good.

Sometimes, when he would get carried away with his affection, he would tack on a qualifying line, just to make sure his loyalties were clear. “I love you so much, dad,” Seth would gush. And then pause, wrinkle his brow and add, “But I do love mom more.”

This Sunday’s Gospel reading makes me wonder who it is that loves God more. I should be quick to admit that the text doesn’t talk at all about our love for God. Quite the opposite, it talks about God’s love for us. Like the shepherd who has 100 sheep and has 1 wander off, God leaves the many to go after the 1. The emphasis of the parable – and the whole of the Bible – is not how deep our love is for God but how massive God’s love is for his creation.

Still, there is a tenderness I see, the first hints at love perhaps, when the tax collectors and sinners –  the despised, the outcasts — shuffled close to Jesus. They wanted to come near and hear his words. I don’t know if they loved Jesus yet, but it was Love they were hearing, Love they were responding to, Love that made them gather ’round.

The dispossessed are always the ones drawn to the renegade. When we have no power and when the illusion of our own self-importance and our own kingdoms has been sufficiently pilfered, we are most able to hear the call of love. And then to gather ’round. To listen. To come close and find out if there might be something here worth hoping for.

The religious elites grumbled; they didn’t come to listen. The powerful Romans were nowhere to be found. Well, that’s not quite true. Some elites would come, here and there – and some Romans too – in humility, to receive. But when they came, they did not arrive as power-makers. They joined the long line forming, the line of sinners, the line filled with the desperate and the ruined. They came to be loved.

And then – and only then – would they have love to return.

4 responses to Who Loves Jesus More? {into the story}

  1. I wonder on these things too. This CS Lewis quote has gotten to me recently "On the whole, God's love for us is a much safer subject to think about than our love for Him." One of the final thoughts, the Romans and elites coming to receive, coming to be loved, that is good. That will preach.

  2. Pondering that, Ryan, good stuff. What strikes you about that line? Why do you think God's love for us is safer?

  3. God isn't subject to the whims and emotions, the myopia and the hysteria that I am. When I focus on the love of God, I see that it is good and complete. I want that image to be my image. Pondering on God's complete love fills me with joy, wonder, and hope.

    When my thoughts shift to how I actually love or how much I actually love Him, I am struck by my wretchedness.

    Thankfully, I have been redeemed and this realization does illuminate a path and this path's end is that image of God. This tension between hope and reality, between the love of God and my own charade of love, this tension is my gift. Yes, I'm not good enough, but He certainly is. No, I don't love as well as I'm called to love, but I'm hopefully getting better, growing up in Christ.

    So, God's love is safer to ponder on because when that is my only focus, I am very content. I am whole and complete. I have my ticket to heaven and I'm ready to ride. But grace isn't cheap. It bids me come and die. It is slowly engulfing every aspect of my life – thoughts and actions, motivations and attitude. It's this path that is dangerous but it's the path I'm on.

  4. Content, I like that. Thanks, Ryan.

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