Choosing the Way of Love

by Sue Collins

(Based on Luke 4:21-31; I Cor 13)

Following last Sunday’s reflection, I was left wondering about the term ‘mandate’. On first thoughts it didn’t seem to be anything to do with worship, prayer and outreach. The ‘mandate’ I know is used in a global context, where it gives power and control to a select group or country.  
The dictionary says it means An official or authoritative command. Or, an official order or commission to do something.

Do we have a mandate to operate as a church group? Do we have a mandate to plan and take services?

Well, Yes we do!
If we take the word to mean the giving of power to a group to plan and establish ways of working together to achieve certain goals, we do have a mandate. And it is how we use that power and to what ends it is put that determines its worth.
I’m grateful for my enlarged vision of what mandate means and how it can be used.

In last week’s reading (of Luke 4:16-19), Jesus is beginning his Galilean ministry. In standing up as he did to announce himself to Nazareth, Jesus was accepting the mandate’. He had to embrace the task ahead of him and commit to it, in the public hearing. 

He “… stood up to read. He found the place where it was written, and he said, ‘the Spirit of God is upon me .. to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of God’s favour.’ And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down.”

This, from last Sunday, immediately precedes today’s Gospel reading from Luke, and it is good to hear it again for two reasons: Firstly, it reminds us of last Sunday’s reading, leading into better understanding of the complete text. Secondly, it throws up an important observation that – for me anyway- offers a fresh understanding of why Jesus was sent/chosen to be our Saviour.    

Listen to what Pastor Steve Garnaas-Holmes has to say in Unfolding Light. He says, “Watch how Jesus does Scripture”. He gives an example of Jesus who quotes a line from a passage from Isaiah, which originally said, “… to proclaim the year of God’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God.”
But Jesus, when he quotes it, finishes with the word ‘favour’, leaving out the “vengeance of our God” phrase.
Keeping one – discarding the other.
Cherry picking!

Scripture is full of images of God as ‘vengeful’ and also as ‘forgiving’. But vengeance is not forgiveness. God isn’t ‘sort of this’ and ‘sometimes that’. You have to choose in the moment. You don’t get both!
Jesus chooses.

In explaining, Pastor Steve goes on to say, “No matter what your sacred books say, you have to choose – the way of vengeance, power and domination, or the way of courage, love and non-violence. Though he had reason not to, Jesus chooses the side of love. And when he asks you, and you falter, as we do, don’t worry. He’ll still choose the way of love.” (And he quotes from Hosea: “I desire mercy, not sacrifices.”)

“Jesus, a prophet in his own country.” This is where we find him and see how he stands. All were speaking well of him. There was amazement! “Is this not Joseph’s son?”

Here was an easy opportunity for him to go with the flow; to enjoy being a valued part of his community. But he speaks out truths they are not prepared to hear; truths that sting and enrage them.
“How dare he point God’s grace toward the outsider.
How dare he uncentre us, the right, the normal.
Oh, we want so badly for Jesus to be like us.
To praise our kind, to fit in, and bless our fitting in.
But he will not. He will stand outside our lines,
athwart our expectations, the sickness of our normal.
He will not fit, and make unfit our fitting in.
He will be the one we judge and label,
and all who are not our kind, and try to throw aw
ay.

“But we can’t be free of him.
Even as he lives on the edge of us
he passes through the centre of us.
This queer saviour, this non-compliant master,
this misfit, is the uncaged Word made flesh,
whose ways are not ours.
Beneath our fragile costumes of class and sect,
in our honest lives undressed, ill-fitting and not right,
unpacked and unconformable,
there, there, is our place in him, and our salvation.”
[Steve Garnaas-Holmes]

Though he had good reason not to, Jesus still chooses the side of love.
Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 speaks of the Supremacy of Love over all the gifts. Love is the greatest gift of all. Paul has taken a whole chapter of his epistle to discuss this.
We, the people of this earth, talk about love loosely. It is an over-used and undervalued word. We degrade it.

However, this “love”, translated from the Greek word ‘agape’, characterises God’s love, and it is manifested in the gift of his son Jesus. It is more than mutual affection; it expresses unselfish esteem of the object loved.  Christ’s love for us is undeserved and without thought of return.

God is Love!  We are safe in the knowledge that his love for us will carry us through whatever is ahead for us.

To finish, here is a letter from God which someone has written. It can hold us fast as we walk through difficult times.

My Dearly Beloved,
You may seem to be in the minority, but you are vast:
While so few hold all the power, don’t let that fool you.
Love is the only real power. 
It rises through the earth, overflows you and warms the world.
In the darkness it is me you hold in your hands, radiant:
I am also in the darkness.
Do not be afraid. Love in the darkness will prevail.
With Love,
God

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