As I noted in my last blog, my family and I recently spent a week at Cedar Campus in the Upper Peninsula with author Tom Blackaby. One of the things that Rev. Blackaby got me thinking about was this:
“Are you loving?”
Blackaby’s point was that while Jesus never compromised his faith or his values, he was always loving beforehe placed any demands on anyone. For an example, let’s look at Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well (found in the Gospel of John, chapter 4). Jesus’ disciples are off looking for some lunch but Jesus stays behind sitting near the village well. Along comes a woman who has a problem with fidelity, has been married five times and is currently living with a sixth. Jesus know all this but he doesn’t lead with it. Jesus doesn’t show up with a sign that says “God hates whores” or begin his conversation by condemning her for her loose morals.
Instead, Jesus begins by asking for a drink of water.
That might not sound like much, but it is. As a Jew, Jesus wasn’t supposed to even speak to a Samaritan and probably should have been careful to speak to a woman even if she was Jewish. Because of her lifestyle, it is likely that this woman was regularly disrespected. When she saw a Jewish man sitting by the well, she expected to be overlooked and disrespected. But Jesus didn’t do that. Jesus gave her respect when he spoke to her. Jesus showed her love by asking her for something that he would have asked of one of his own disciples. Speaking to a Samaritan would have been discouraged but drinking from a Samaritan’s cup would have been inconceivable. Jesus showed her love by ignoring the rules of his culture.
Not surprisingly, Jesus doesn’t stop at being counter cultural. Jesus doesn’t just offer this woman some self-esteem, he offers her living water saying, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Let’s review: Jesus meets a woman who his culture says that he should ignore, and he speaks to her. The religious leaders of the day said that Jesus should not speak to her, should not touch her, and should not even eat or drink from anything that she has touched but he asks her for a drink anyway. And then, when the woman wonders why he is breaking all of the rules, he offers her living water, the gift of eternal life. And so far, she hasn’t acknowledged her sin, repented, or changed her behavior in any way.
Only then, does Jesus tell the woman that he knows all about her history.
Before Jesus talks about sin, Jesus offered her love.
Over and over again, in encounter after encounter, this is the model that Jesus follows. Before Jesus said anything to Zacchaeus the tax collector about sin, he honored him by entering his home and sharing a meal with him.
Love first. Religion second.
I am not saying that religion and repentance are not important. Jesus thought they were important. These things did not get left behind at the side of the road. Jesus came to earth, lived, died and rose again so that we could know about repentance and salvation. But Jesus always showed people that he loved them before he told them that God desired for them to live differently.
Before we tell our neighbors that they have a sin problem, we had better be sure that they know how much we love them. Showing up at parades or funerals with signs saying that God hates somebody doesn’t pass the smell test. Doing stuff like that doesn’t smell like Jesus, it isn’t at all the sort of thing that Jesus did. Everybodyhated Samaritans and tax collectors and they knew it. The woman at the well and Zacchaeus expected Jesus to hate them. They were surprised when he didn’t. It was his surprising love for them that made them open to listening and genuinely hearingwhat he had to say next when he told them that there was a better way.
Loving your neighbor opens the door so that they can hear the important message that you are carrying.
The model of Jesus is this:
Love first. Preach second.
So how about it?
Are you loving?