When I first became a Christian, I was excited to be a part of a group of people who would love me regardless of my past choices and in spite of my future mistakes.
They would love me unconditionally because they loved Jesus. I had heard the songs and I believed the lyrics to be true, “They will know we are Christians by our love” and “Yes, Jesus loves me.” Right?
I was eager to experience this unconditional love because I believed the lie that there were parts of me that were unlovable. There were chapters of my story I worked hard to hide, and I fully believed if people were to ever discover those dark, hidden secrets, then whatever affinity they once had for me would surely fade.
But maybe, just maybe, this group of people who are called to love all creatures great and small would see those things and hear those things and know those things, and still love me anyway?
Would they love me if they knew how young I was when I had sex for the first time?
Would they love me if they knew about the substances I had tried?
Would they love me if they knew I chose to abort my first child when I was in college?
Would they love me if they knew I had struggled with an eating disorder?
Would they love me if they knew there was so much I said I would never do that I did?
Would they love me?
Even more so, would God love me?
Because as much as I was drawn to the notion that a group of people would offer me love and forgiveness, I was, first and foremost, drawn to Christ. The more I learned about Him and His teachings, the more amazed I was.
And over time, the lies I had believed for so long faded, and a comforting and beautiful truth was left in its place. I am forgiven. I am accepted. I am loved. All of me. Even the parts some would deem unlovable. I no longer believe the lie that something I chose to do would keep me from the love of God. Now, I know He has always been with me.
This was what I had hoped and prayed for. And God answered my prayer.
But lately, I have been a little disillusioned by what I am seeing and hearing. I have wondered, what do people see when they see Christians today? Do they see this love that I was drawn to all of those years ago? Do they see this forgiveness? Do they see this mercy? And justice? And compassion? And lack of judgment?
Do they know we are Christians by our love?
Do they see Christ?
As I read the Bible, I am struck time and time again by the blindness of the Sadducees and Pharisees. Jesus would heal a person and their response would be to reprimand Him for healing on the Sabbath. They were so much more concerned with their laws and their rules than the compassion and mercy and healing that was taking place right in front of their eyes.
Instead of seeing God before them in the flesh, they saw a man not following their laws and their rules. A man hanging out with the unsavory and going into the homes of tax collectors. He talked to prostitutes and people who had committed adultery.
He didn’t play by their rules. He didn’t hang out with their people.
He could not possibly be who He said He was.
Because they expected more. They expected greater. They expected a zealous rule follower who would take down the Roman Empire with His wealth and His power. Not a poor man. Not the son of a carpenter from Nazareth. Not someone who hung out with women and lepers and a motley cru he called His disciples. He didn’t spend His time with the best and the brightest. He didn’t walk around enforcing all of the Laws. He challenged them.
Oh, no. This could not be God. He was supposed to be so much more.
But it was God. And they murdered Him because He wasn’t who they wanted Him to be.
And I think about this a lot. If Jesus showed up today, where do you think He would go?
Who do you think He would gather to be his most intimate friends? Who do you think He would be sharing His message of love and inclusion and the reminder that the kingdom of God is for all who believe in Him with?
I could imagine Him going into the homes of gay couples and gathering people there.
I could imagine Him walking into an abortion clinic and gathering people there.
I could imagine Him walking the streets with the marginalized and oppressed, crying for justice, and gathering people there.
I could imagine Him at the homeless shelter and gathering people there.
I could imagine Him at the strip bars, and gathering people there.
I could imagine Him at a halfway house and in the prisons, and gathering people there.
I could imagine Him with the refugees and gathering people there.
I could imagine Him with all of the people we want to judge and exclude and push away.
Jesus was radical and He is not of this time. He wasn’t what we had expected He would be. Thank goodness for that. Instead, He was what the world needed. He is what the world needs. He shook things up. He challenged the establishment.
Is this what people see when they see Christians today?
Do they see people living out their lives with a deep, abiding, compassion and love? Do they see people fighting for justice and mercy and standing up for the least of these? Do they see people who are full of grace?
Or do they see judgment? Do they see people who look like followers of Christ, or do they see people who are so hung up on their laws that they are forgetting the greatest commandments Christ gave us in Mark 12:30-31, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”’
Am I saying we have permission to do whatever we want and that we don’t strive to please God with our actions and words? Absolutely not. But what I am saying is that we each have our own personal relationship with God and with Jesus. We all are convicted of things at different times. We all grow in our own beautiful ways.
And He is patient. And tender. And good. And forgiving. And it is unfair to put myself into your relationship. I need to take the plank out of my own eye before I spend my time focusing on the speck of sawdust in yours.
There is much we won’t fully understand about God during our time on earth. But what I do know is that when I read about the life of Jesus, that is what I want my life to look like. A life of inclusion. A life of mercy. A life of hospitality. A life of love.