Posted by: ritagone | September 24, 2014

The Opposite of Love

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I’ve been teaching a three-week study on 1 Corinthians 13 (The Love Chapter) for The Connection, my church’s Thursday morning womens’ Bible study, which I’ve been a part of for several decades now and which I love dearly.

As I have always firmly believed and which was confirmed yet again during this particular study, the teacher seems to learn more than the students!

During a conversation with one of the ladies at a table in the room (I like to open up the dialogue and keep it interactive while I’m teaching, as I’m a firm believer that that’s the way you learn and retain more of what’s being said, by talking and participating rather than just listening), she was responding to a personal story I shared of forgiveness in my past, a person I was able to forgive even though the offense was pretty heinous. Her response was that no, this was behavior that she had learned through years of therapy which merited no forgiveness. What she continued to say was that there were some things that were indeed unforgiveable, and this was one of them, and therefore she was justified in feeling this way. Case closed.

When you’re standing up front teaching in a room and you open up a dialogue with those listening to you, you always run the risk that the conversation will get out of hand, that one person will somehow hijack what’s being said, or another person will monopolize, or any number of possibilities that can throw things for a loop. It’s always a risk I feel should be taken because I think the rewards are well worth it: involvement and interest and the fact that the listeners stay with you and what’s being said in a much more dynamic way for themselves.

While I’ve been teaching this series, I’ve also been reading an interesting book called “Short Stories by Jesus,” written by a self-proclaimed “Yankee Jewish feminist who teaches in a predominantly Christian divinity school in the buckle of the Bible belt.” Author Amy-Jill Levine has tackled many of the well-known parables Jesus told as He ministered for three years, but her slant is very different from the typical evangelical fundamentalist writer, and I have to say that in some places what she has to say is very refreshing and insightful.

When it came to the parable of The Good Samaritan, I found fresh gleanings in particular about the lawyer who got into a short conversation with Jesus which eventually led to Him telling that particular story. The lawyer was actually trying to justify himself, the text says (Luke 10:29) when he asked the famous question: “And who is my neighbor?” Rather than trying to find out who he was supposed to love, Levine feels that he was shrewdly justifying who he was allowed not to love, and therefore Jesus’ telling of this particular story tears down all the Law’s permissions to refrain from loving those who are not like us: outsiders, aliens, people lesser than we are by whatever definition we choose to use.

After this question was asked by the lawyer, Jesus launched into the parable itself, so famous, as I said, that its characters and storyline are a part of our Western culture, easily identified and understood. We know immediately what a Good Samaritan is; we even name our hospitals after this character in Jesus’ parable, because of the loving, intimate care he gave the man lying in the road.

And the whole point of Jesus’ parable was this: we are really called to love EVERYBODY.

I’m always reminded in a conversation like the one with the gal during my lesson of the Corrie Ten Boom story in the wonderful book “The Hiding Place” where she is confronted years after the end of World War 2 by the prison guard who was directly responsible for her sister’s death. In church, no less, walking toward her, hands extended, and asking for her forgiveness for what he knows is a past life filled with shame and guilt. In a split second, Ten Boom knows she can do what her human nature is telling her to do, which is to pull away from the man and reject him with great hatred, or do what she knows God wants her to do, which is to reach out and take his hand and comfort, forgive and love him.

What would you do?

What would I do?

The lawyer in the story of Luke 10 wanted Jesus to define who his neighbor was in such a way that he could justify never having to love him, narrowly and selfishly. Jesus refused to do that. Instead, He broadened the definition of who we’re supposed to love and then made sure that the expert in the law understood clearly what He was communicating. After describing the three men who came upon the scene of a beaten, damaged, half dead man lying in the road, two of whom passed him by on the other side of the street and one of whom felt pity and love and actually went out of his way to take care of him, Jesus answered the lawyer, in typical Jewish fashion, by asking His own question: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” He was trapped. Anyone standing around listening to this dialogue between Jesus and the lawyer could see that this was the right answer, so even if he never acted upon the truth, he was showing that he at least knew what was the right thing to do.

He knew what it meant to love even if he could continue to justify his way out of loving.

As can we all.

So when Jesus said to the lawyer, “Go and do likewise,” I imagine He meant it for me too. And you.

Sometimes the opposite of love is justifying why we don’t have to love. And that’s as much of a shame and does as much damage as hating.

 

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Responses

  1. Great post! I’m in full accord with what you’ve written. I preached a message once on the distinction between what I called ‘reflective’ grace vs. ‘selective’ grace…had a member tell me essentially the same-that there are just certain people, certain GROUPS of people and certain sins that are not worthy of forgiveness. Gasp. The parable of the Unforgiving Servant weaves into this as well.

  2. Great article, Rita Thank you so much. 🙂 This is a subject I think of almost as much often as the subject of “speaking the truth in love” as a Christian (a different can of worms entirely).

    There’s a place in the Bible where God uses an analogy of His forgivesness of us. I’m too lazy to go find it, but it’s one where He describes throwing (our sins) into the sea, as far down deep as the deepest depths of the ocean. That’s scary deep.

    “Forgive but don’t forget” is what I’ve always believed. But, then I tend to stereo-type that person putting them in a box until I trust them again. And I rebellious if I feel forced to trust.

    If Christ forgave ALL of our sins, certainly I can forgive. I thought I did this. I know He can take “wrongs” and make amazing”rights” out of even the worst situations. Sometimes I have to remember this, but I do know it.

    Yet, if I’m completely honest, I find myself, on certain issues, feeling bitterness creep back in.

    In one situation I’m involved in it’s been so long, the pain, is still there oftentimes. While sometimes I know for sure I’ve forgiven, and have actually even prayed for that person(s) (and no, not for revenge to come down on them) I’ve had to go back, humbly, and ask God to help me forgive. Again.

    Understanding the mind of God is way above my pay grade. Love learing, though.. 🙂

    So thank you Rita,
    xox,
    ~m


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