Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.” Matthew 22:37-40 (MSG)
A certain friend found himself in a tough spot. Despite knowing better, he’d made a mess of his life. He’d squandered what he had going for him and wandered a long way from the straight and narrow. Embarrassed and ashamed of his behavior, my friend’s parent, loved ones, and church friends seized every opportunity to remind him of all that he had done wrong and give him a piece of their minds. It didn’t take long before my friend avoided them like the plague, shunning any communication with them in the hope of avoiding their condemning and judgmental jabs.
About that time, a stranger came along who saw what a fix my friend was in and began to walk beside him. The stranger did not condone my friends’ obnoxious behavior, but nevertheless chose to listen, to have gentle conversation, and to be present in my friend’s life. The stranger’s love and grace became instrumental in my prodigal friend’s restoration.
I don’t know why moral commands seem to outweigh the command to love when it comes to those we should love the most. Time and time again I watch people act as if moral failure in another person seemingly renders the command to love null and void, giving them license to shun and/or condemn. In this, I’m as guilty as the next person. I wish I’d shown my friend the same love and grace as the stranger.
This week is Easter, and I’m thinking a lot about Jesus laying down His life in the ultimate act of sacrificial love for people who didn’t deserve it. When I’d wandered far from the path, Jesus responded with forgiveness and grace. He took the penalty of my sin upon himself and received the punishment He didn’t deserve so that I could be free from it.
If I don’t respond in the same way to others who are similarly lost, I somehow get the sense that I’m profaning what Jesus did for me.