Year A, Pentecost, Proper 25
“Knowing the heart of Jesus and loving him are the same thing….The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God.” Henri Nouwen, 20th century
I have often wondered what it really means to love Jesus. I wonder what it means to love God “with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” as Jesus proclaims in the text from Matthew this week. Steeped in the Christian faith since birth, it seems on one hand that loving God/Jesus is like breathing, unconscious most of the time, a reflex. Yet breathing is so completely necessary to life in the body that without breath one dies. Is loving God/Jesus vital and also reflexive? Growing up in the church I thought I had to work hard to love God and Jesus. Doing all the right things! Nouwen reminds us that knowing the heart of Jesus is loving him and so placing ourselves within the love of God.
I find the heart of Jesus in his recitation of the heart of the Jewish law…“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ “In Mark’s version of this story Jesus begins the quote with “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” The implication for me is that loving God with our whole being is knowing that our whole life is in God who is One. Out of that One we love ourselves and our neighbor as we love the generative love that is God. This is the heart of Jesus as he proclaims the heart of God.
And Nouwen gives me hope in defining ministry – clergy AND lay, no difference – as offering our best efforts even if limited and conditional to be the gateway, conduit, for God’s unlimited, unconditional love. Perhaps it was the realization of my limitations that always made me feel as if I had to work hard at loving God. Not so, it seems. It is a matter of breathing in and out in trusting the love of God that is already there. The love in which the whole of creation moves and breathes and has its being.
I invite you this week to consider the other lectionary texts in this light. What does each of them have to teach us of the unlimited, unconditional love that is God? The same Love who led Moses in teaching the Israelites is the same Love that inspired the voice of the psalmist is the same Love that worked through the ministry of Jesus and then his apostle, Paul. What do you see as you view the scriptures from this lens of Love? I see Love that is not merely the gratitude of warm feelings but more importantly the stubbornness of unwavering commitment to paraphrase Douglas Hare in his commentary, Matthew, Interpretation. So perhaps, Love is conscious work, conscious choice-making, fueled by and undergirded by the unconscious reflex of living in the Oneness of God who is Love. Whenever I feel overworked by love, I hope to remember to relax into Love.
There is a story found in Ethiopian, Korean and Japanese folklore that holds vivid imagery of stubborn, unwavering love. The bones of the story are built like this: A woman is alienated from an angry loved one. In the Ethiopian tale it is her stepson who does not want to accept a new mother. (This is most likely the best version to tell children.) In the Asian tales it is her husband that has returned from being away in the war. After months of trying to be in close relationship with the stepson or the husband the woman is losing hope. She goes to the local shaman and begs for a love potion. The shaman tells her that the potion can only be made if she obtains a whisker from a lion or tiger or a white hair from the chest of a crescent moon bear – all of which are quite dangerous creatures. The woman agrees and undertakes a journey to obtain what she needs. She also must devise a lengthy process of befriending the animal to get the whisker or the white hair. When the precious ingredient is finally returned the woman joyfully returns to the shaman for her potion. Upon receiving the whisker or hair the shaman throws it into the fire. The woman is horrified until the shaman tells her she has all she needs to gain the love and trust of her loved one. And the woman realizes if she approaches her stepson or husband with the patient love and care she used with the animal she will find the relationship she desires. And she does.
You can find this story in its three ethnic versions By clicking on the three links below: three websites listed below:
- “The Lion’s Whisker”, a African tale[i]
- “The Tiger’s Whisker,” a Korean tale[ii]
- “The Crescent Moon Bear,” a Japanese tale[iii]
Blessings on your story journey this week,
©Jane Anne Ferguson, 2017 and beyond. Photos and commentary to be reprinted only with permission. Please find and tell the stories!