I grew up learning about Jesus, but unfortunately, my head twisted the way I thought about Him to make Him a very driving taskmaster who was always waiting for you to mess up. And then would rub your nose in your mess-up to remind you of why you needed to do better next time. In the past few years especially, God has begun to teach me who He really is and I am able to read the Bible with different glasses on.
I have been struck over and over again by the kindness and compassion of God. I know, I know, the Old Testament seems to be a running diatribe of killing and violence. But running through that pain (which, incidentally, was very normal during that point in history…and for that matter, in many countries today it continues to be) was this continued patience and compassion for Israel. Israel kept getting it wrong. And yet God would come in and save them. They would leave the God who had done amazing miracles right in front of their own eyes to go worship a wooden idol that they had made themselves, and yet He would still pursue them.
To me, this feels like if my son decided that he didn’t want me as him mom anymore and was going to make his own mom. It didn’t matter that I had travailed in labor with him (all 9 lbs 4 ozs of him, no less!!), had fought through food allergies, had been up in the middle of the night and had tried to love and raise him well. He just decided that he could do better. So, he went out and made a mom of leaves, sticks and rocks. And he hugged it, loved on it, talked to it—all while his actual mom kept maintaining his existence through feeding him and generally caring for him.
It sounds ridiculous, right? But that’s what Israel did with God in the Old Testament. And that’s what we do with Him today.
I don’t plan on it, but I decide that a lot of stuff will be my god instead of Him. Maybe a person will make me feel better, or a new car, or a fun vacation. Maybe my job will bring me fulfillment. Or maybe my kids. I worship at the altar of so many things that I have created, in a sense, to be my god.
And here’s the amazing thing. He doesn’t come at me with all His anger and torch me on the spot (which frankly, would be tempting for me if I was God) even after all my denial and rejection. He comes with compassion, with kindness and with patience. He waits for me to figure out I’m an idiot. He meets me with undeserved compassion, a kindness that overwhelms me with His mercy and grace.
So, with this Life of Jesus in us, we can turn to anyone in this world, regardless of how stupid they are being, and meet them with the same compassion and kindness. Not because they deserve it or have changed their behavior and cleaned themselves up. God doesn’t wait for us to earn something because, if He did, He would be waiting forever.
I find that the people of Jesus today often don’t access this Life in them to love others in this way. I know that I get stuck in judging or condemning and forget this isn’t how God loves us. He loves the unlovable, extends compassion to the outcast and shows kindness to the one stuck in their sin. Let’s not wait for people to be cleaned up before we will love them. Let’s ask Jesus for the love for the unlovable one in your life today, for He is the One who must provide that for you.
I don’t agree with everything Thomas Merton wrote, but this quote was beautiful to me: “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business.” If God has called you to love someone, then He will be enough love for you whether or not you consider them worthy. Only He is working in the heart of the other person and knows what is going on there. Only He knows what love they need.
Our defining characteristics as people of Jesus today should be kindness, compassion and love. That doesn’t mean that we accept behavior as it is, but we do realize that we aren’t the ones to change that behavior. Out of the heart comes behavior, after all (Luke 6:43-45). If we try to polish people up before we love them, we are not acting according to what Jesus is about. Think about how many times Jesus was accused of consorting with prostitutes, drunks and tax collectors (the ultimate bad guy apparently!) and how He told them that He didn’t come for the well but for the sick (Luke 5:30-32). In the same way, He calls us to the sick. But you don’t have to be enough for that in yourself. You are a branch on the Vine, and His life flows through you just as the lifeblood of the vine flows through the branch to produce fruit (John 15:4-5). What unlovable person is He calling you to love today? In His power, will you walk forward in kindness and compassion?