I want to let everyone in on the best kept secret of faith and God. I want to tell you something so scandalous that it has brought good men and women to their death. The secret: Jesus loves ALL people. Now don’t put down your paper, because for many this is a secret.
In the back of my house growing up was a large field. One day I saw two boys who were passing a football and went out to join them. I must have been about twelve. As I approached, I heard them whispering to each other, “God must really hate that jerk.” The statement referred to a neighbor who had been stricken with polio at an early age. I chose to continue walking past them to play in the park alone.
I remember that incident because it was the first time I had ever really seen hate that was not connected to an action. As I had known him, he was a very nice man with a couple of kids and the coolest hand-operated bike. He always seemed to have a smile on his face, but in a neighborhood that stressed sameness in looks and actions, the foreignness of a disability made many uncomfortable, which spawned the ignorant hateful comments of the two boys.
Lent seems to be a time when we focus on the actions of Christ and His teachings. Forget, for the moment, the “Hollywood” vision of Christ with a perfect body, a full head of long wavy hair. Perfect teeth and so on. Now picture him as your best friend or just a random man in the crowd that physically did not stand out. Think of him as just an average guy, of average weight and average strength.
Now picture this average guy getting people interested in his teachings. See crowds flocking to Him. Now think a little harder, and see this man sitting and having regular conversations with the outcasts of society, breaking all of the rules of society, and making the leadership look bad along the way.
In Jesus you begin to see something different, and one thing we know about difference is that it makes us scared and angry and can make us hate. The hate for Jesus that so many had in his time had been visceral. How dare he do what he was doing? How dare he challenge the traditions of society? How dare he preach a message of love? How dare he call himself the Son of God?
Jesus dared to challenge the world, and for that he gave his life for our sins. For in challenging the world, he challenged the sinful separation that people created between people and God. Ultimately, he took those sins on the cross and it gives hope today.
Unfortunately, our world still includes hate. Many use the Bible to promote hate. Others use the traditions to force hateful interpretations. The truth is, in no way did Christ ever, and I mean ever, preach or teach a message of hate. Instead, Christ taught love. Not to judge, because that was His job, but to love even when all societal indications point to hate.
This is difficult in our time because of our traditions, but you know what, if we really want to be faithful to God’s calling, he is calling us to love and work for justice and peace and a world filled with hope and joy, not hate and anger. This means that we are called to take the difficult road and love our neighbors as ourselves.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen