Still biting off life in six minutes mouthfuls, which has left me soul-searching of late. There are certain burdens that come with miracles that leave me asking too many times,”What really matters in my life?” Was only coming up with cliches until the following verse awakened a simple, profound, and ugly truth.
“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Gal. 5:6b)
“Love” in this verse comes from the word “agape“, which means “an act of the will”. As little as I probably understand “agape”, I think I’ve observed glimpses of it in true-life actions of strangers towards people who had nothing to give back.
- There was the mother, who didn’t seem to have much herself, who handed the cashier her credit card a second time and motioned towards the disheveled mommy rummaging through her purse in the other line while also trying to reign in a naughty child.
- There was a young man who sat down beside an older man in a coffee shop and started a conversation. “I know this is odd, but I think I’m supposed to ask you if there is anything I can pray for. Are you okay?” The second man stared – tears formed – and soon two heads were bent together, the tears now flowing … pain releasing.
- I know of another stranger who stopped a woman in the grocery store. The stranger was nervous, hesitant, but asked the woman how she was. Did she need prayer for anything? The woman trembled. That particular day was the anniversary of her daughter’s disappearance ten years ago. The daughter had been abducted … probably murdered. How did the stranger know? “I didn’t,” the stranger said. “but Christ does. He hasn’t forgotten.”
What does faith expressing itself through (agape) love look like? It looks these people: risk-taking, kind-hearted, time-giving, faith-driven people. People who made a willful decision, trusting the outcome to God, even thought they might face ridicule or rejection.
The actions described here are heart warming, beautiful, even. Faith … expressing itself through love … it should be beautiful. But faith isn’t always beautiful. There’s an ugly side of agape love. Horrible, even. It is Jesus Christ brutalized on a cross.
The cross, I’m afraid, is in danger of having become too polished, too comfortable … a symbol of safety and warm feelings. The pretty gold and silver ones we hang around our necks … the sanitized versions protruding from church steeples … the nicely sanded wooden replicas on the walls of our homes … ornamental or life-altering?
To Jesus, there was nothing comforting about a cross. It was a criminal’s punishment; a tool of torture used by cruel soldiers against their enemies. The cross was inhumane. It was meant to humiliate, harm, and destroy human beings. Jesus suffered horribly there, undeservedly, for those He loves.
On that Cross, hung and bled the Creator of the Universe, having in His mind every single human being. Whether we scoff, mock, ignore, reject, rebel, hide, scorn, run, or just simply hurt … He was there … nailed by love. By an act of faith, birthed out of love, expressing itself through love, Jesus turned cruelty into hope. He made a death sentence into freedom. It was ugly. It was love.
“Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” John 13:1