“Real love loves us, not just as we are, but so that we can become what we are meant to be…It’s a love that won’t let us go.” Mark Buchanan
Recently I heard someone tell their story at a fund raising dinner for a ministry in the city of Chicago.* Now a member of the board, a man shared that he first came to the ministry as a teenager. He was in a gang and had a friend who had started to come to the ministry. He said thinking back he wasn’t even sure how he ended up coming. It must have been because of his friend. He certainly did not fit at a place that was known for love. His own family called him a devil child. His life was on a path headed to destruction. Thinking back now, what he remembers, is coming to this place and having people tell him that Jesus loved him. That’s all. That’s what it took to change his life. In time, love moved him to become more. He left the gang. He finished high school. He went on to college. Now he is a husband, a father, and a member of the Board of this ministry. Now, his family calls him “pastor.” It all started by learning that Jesus loved him.
Towards the end of his life, the esteemed German theologian, Karl Barth, was speaking at an event in the same city, Chicago. During the Q & A, a student from the University of Chicago asked him to summarize his theology in a single sentence. Now especially for a systematic theologian like Barth, that is not an easy things to do. His highly regarded work, Church Dogmatics, is over six million words and 9000 pages. As the story goes, in response to the student’s question, Barth shared that the thing that mattered most to him was best summarized: “In the words of a song I learned at my mother’s knee: ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” It all came down to one thing, Jesus loved him.
There must be something to this. There must be something worth considering here. What does it mean? What difference does it make to know that Jesus loves you?
Love may be one of the most difficult things to define. We often hear about one type of love — unconditional love. The greek word associated with this kind of love is agape. Reflecting on this, Mark Buchanan writes: “Agape…it’s an in spite of love. It’s love of the great nevertheless. It exists free of conditions, fueled by something within itself rather than evoked by something outside itself…it is unprovoked love. I have never heard it described that way, but I think it describes it best…It seeks those who never saw it coming, who never had it coming, who never sought it out. It shows up unannounced, unexpected, undeserved.”**
At the very end of his life, when he knew his hour had come, Jesus said and did something unprovoked. He gathered with his disciples and he told them that he would love them to the end. (Jn13:1) Then he did something shocking. He washed their feet. He washed everyone’s feet — those who would doubt, those who would deny him, those who would betray him. He loved them all. Maybe you have a positive association with someone washing your feet? Maybe it conjures up images of a pedicure? That is not what we are talking about here. In ancient times, feet were dirty. They carried the marks of the harsh conditions of the day. There may have been blood and sores on the feet that Jesus washed. At that time, foot washing was such a demeaning job, that Jewish slaves were not even allowed to do such a thing. So when Jesus washes his disciples feet, it is quite extraordinary.
Paul asks, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? …No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us, For I am convinced that neither death, not life, nor angels, nor rulers, not things present, not things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, not anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8: 35-39)
Jesus loves you. It doesn’t matter if you have your life together or not. It doesn’t matter where you grew up or who you work for. It doesn’t matter what you know or who you know. Even if it feels like you are in the valley of the shadow of death and you are not sure you are going to make it. Even if you are stuck in the ordinary doldrums of life, where you wake to a day that seems like the one that came before. Jesus will love you to the end. Moreover, because you are loved and can live as one who is loved, you have the power to become what you were meant to be.
“This is love,” John says, “not that we loved God, but that he loved us.” (IJn4:10)
*The organization is By The Hand Club For Kids. It is an after-school program that takes kids by the hand and walks with them from kindergarten through college, loving and nurturing them — mind, body, and soul.
** Mark Buchanan, Hidden in Plain Sight: The Secret of More