Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Seeing the Face of God on Valentine's Day

As Valentine's Day approached, I was pondering love and the following quote from Victor Hugo's Les Misrables came into mind:
To love another person is to see the face of God.

And this calls to light something fascinating that I think churchgoers seem, unfortunately, to have missed all too often these days.  Remember the parable of the sheep and the goats?  What does the character of the King say to the sheep?  He welcomes them into the kingdom because they fed him when he was hungry, gave him a drink when he was thirsty, welcomed him into their homes when he was a stranger, clothed him when he needed clothing, cared for him when he was sick, and visited him in prison.  The sheep ask “when did we do that?”  As Keith Green humorously puts it in his musical rendition of the tale, the sheep say “Lord, when were you a stranger and we invited you in?  I mean, we invited lots of people in, but Lord, I could never forget that face!”  And what is the king’s reply?  “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!”  And what’s interesting about this parable to me is that nowhere does Jesus say that the king said “for you made sure I had my doctrine straight and told me where I had my thinking wrong, and got me to change my wicked ways before you fed, and clothed, and visited me.”  Jesus makes no distinction about what kind of people the sheep did these acts of kindness for, except that they are the least.  And if you examine all of Jesus’ life and teachings you’ll notice this theme all throughout – Jesus never allows any distinctions when he commands his followers to love.  When he was asked, in reference to the command to love our neighbors, who IS our neighbor, Jesus used a story about a group of people who had some major doctrinal differences with the Jews – the Samaritans.  And in his story the Jews didn’t act neighborly while the Samaritan character did.  And in another teaching Jesus commanded them to love even their enemies!  And one of his disciples, Peter, caught on to the implication that this must mean that we are to forgive our enemies as well, so he asked Jesus (figuring there must be a reasonable limit somewhere to our forgiveness) “how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”  Peter thought this was quite generous.  But Jesus told him: “No, not seven times, but seventy times seven!”  Jesus was implying that our forgiveness should have no limits (because who is going to count that high?). 

So when I think of all this, I think about an outreach activity I was involved in recently with some of my friends.  We went to the local mall and handed out bags of candy to anyone and everyone we met, as a little Valentine’s Day treat and a simple way to tell them that Jesus loves them.  And I had a bit of an advantage in this activity, because I had brought my 5 year old son with me.  He is a far better evangelist than I will ever be, because he has no boundaries or prejudices or fears.  So he would eagerly grab handfuls of bags and run up to everyone who was near.  And one of the most beautiful moments of that day, for me, was when I saw him run up to a big, burly dude with a certain darker shade of melanin who was probably a full head taller than me, with his hair in corn rows and big baggy jeans.  My son ran up to him and held a bag of candy up to him and shouted at the top of his lungs “JESUS LOVES YOU!”  And the man’s face lit up like a spotlight.  A big, gold-toothed smile stretched from ear to ear and he looked up at me with that smile and an inexpressible joy filled my heart.  I had just seen the face of God, as Victor Hugo puts it.

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