The Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany
Year C AS
Loving the Unlovable
We come to the end of our season after the Epiphany. Next week will be the last The Sunday after the Epiphany and then we enter Lent. Some years ago, bracelets were popular which had WWJD on them. I think they were to help people wonder about Jesus as they made decisions. What would Jesus do? How are we to live out our faith in the world? Well! We are given clearly our role, our task in response to the world in the lessons given on this day.
Last Sunday’s lessons and this Sunday’s lessons are challenging; they are counter cultural. They are a challenge to everything we know. They invite us to a different place and a different way to not just think, but to act. They challenge us to know the truth of God’s love in us; a love that is not only meant to change and shape us, but meant to change and shape everything we do, everything we touch. They also sound crazy.
I don’t know much about the stand your ground law. I do know it was a law intended to allow us to confront those who would want to injure or kill us. It comes from a visceral place, a place I understand. Do not mess with the people I love; don’t mess with the innocents around me. I understand the passion that comes when we protect that which we love but in this Gospel, we hear that if someone strikes us, then we are not only to not strike them back, but we are to let them hit us again.
This Gospels tells us that we are to give someone, not just when they sue us, but to give them more than they demand. We are challenged in this Gospel to go farther than we are demanded, and we are called to give more. We are being called to love in a very different way.
Surely Jesus does not really mean this. Surely we are not called to be as crazy as this sounds.
I love children’s books. Some of the stories bring great truth. During Lent each year I read “The Velveteen Rabbit”. The transforming nature of the story seems to tug at me as I examine my own sin and God’s redemption. There is something powerful in being reminded that being real is not about the stuff I own and have that makes me who I am. No, who I am is found in relationship. Each year during Advent I read “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever”. The simple story reminds me of the truth of God’s startling entry into the world; the truth of incarnation. This Gospel reminds of the children’s stories about loving that which is unlovable. The beauty and the beast or the princess and the frog. We are called to love. We are called to see God’s creation in the least and the most unlovable.
Beauty is often defined for us. Our world tells us what is beautiful and worthwhile. Our world also tells us what we should reject and dislike. But Jesus in this Gospel changes everything. He reminds us that as people who intend to love as God loves means that we do not and cannot set up our own boundaries for that love.
Yes, we are to love. Yes, we are to love as God loves. We are to see in our world that which the world rejects and love where the rest of the world cannot and will not. We cannot make up our own mind about what is worthy of love but instead must love as God loves. The love that we are called to is a verb. It is found in how act.
This God love, this father love doesn’t seem right nor fair. When someone strikes out at us, we love. When we are attacked, we love. So where is God’s light for us; where is God’s Epiphany for us in these words? The epiphany for me takes place when I stop thinking that I am worthy of the love God has bestowed on me. The Epiphany for me begins when I realize that God’s love for me takes place when I do good and holy things and it happens in the midst of my sin. In the big scheme I am the unlovable one who God loves so much that he sent his son for me. I am the beast that beauty has changed. I am the frog that has been kissed. This Gospel is not just about what you are called to be and know and do; it is also about the truth of God’s love for you a truth he asks you to live out.
Henri Nowen wrote, “For Jesus, there are no countries to be conquered, no ideologies to be imposed, no people to be dominated. There are only children, women and men to be loved”.
Oscar Wilde used these words, “Nobody’s worthy to be loved. The fact that God loves people shows that in the divine order of thing … eternal love is to be given to what is eternally unworthy.”
God has loved us with an unimaginable love, an extravagant love even though we didn’t earn it and we can’t claim to deserve it. The same God who loves us with such fantastic love asks us also to love those who we and the world don’t find worthy. He asks of us that we also love extravagantly.