God’s Expanding Love
Mark 2:23-3:6

by | Jun 3, 2024


PRAYER:  God of grace and mercy, tend the ground of our souls that the love that grows from it may flourish and bloom.  Expand our hearts and minds to see the world around us with fresh vision and newfound hope.  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, my rock and my redeemer.

When Pat met her husband George, he was in the Navy, stationed in Pearl Harbor.  This was about 8 or 9 years after the Japanese attack; George wasn’t there in 1941, but Pat was.  Pat was about 13 years old, and remembered being woken up early that morning by the sound of the first wave of planes flying overhead on their way across the island.

Pat and George got married in 1950 and were, by their own accounts, very happy.  They loved each other.  To the best of their ability, they split their time between New Jersey, where George was from, and Hawaii… eventually settling in Pearl Harbor where he was stationed.

Think about those years when Pat and George first met, when they fell in love, got married.  Think about the hard work that goes into being a young married couple… those difficult parts of personalities become harder to mask, harder to ignore.  Having known George as an older man, I can tell you that he could be cantankerous.   I can only imagine what must have gone through Pat’s thinking as she got to know that part of her husband.  I suppose it’s possible that he didn’t become cantankerous until later in life… I obviously didn’t know him then, but I can tell you that he took a lot of getting used to.

After four years of marriage, a child – a daughter – got added into that mix.  They were still in love, but quite naturally, that love… changed.  It evolved.  It evolves for all of us.  It’s part of the natural order of things.  We can’t reasonably expect that high romantic feeling to last forever.  Especially when a child arrives.

About a year after their daughter Kim was born, Pat was pregnant again.  And again, it’s reasonable to expect the parameter of love between husband and wife to come under more adjustment.  They went from being the two of them, to the three of them… and now they would be the four of them.  No different from what millions of other married couples have faced since time began.

But late in Pat’s second pregnancy, something went wrong.  Terribly wrong.  Three days before their son Greg was born, Pat was stricken with polio.  She was paralyzed from the neck down.  She gave birth inside of an iron lung.

Eventually, Pat, George, and their two children moved to George’s hometown in New Jersey – so that Pat could get the medical attention she couldn’t get in Hawaii.  When a young couple stands up in front of their friends and family and says, “I Do”, they typically have no idea what they’re committing themselves to do.  The love that exists in that moment is going to be challenged.  It’s going to require nurturing, and growth, and tenacity.  It’s even going to require some improvisation.  The more we resist that natural evolution, the more we struggle in our relationships.

In our gospel reading today, Jesus is struggling with the Pharisees.  It even says that he got angry.  Verse 5 of chapter 3 says that Jesus was “Looking around at them with anger, deeply grieved at their unyielding hearts…”  Honestly, sometimes I want to latch onto that, I want to feel some righteous anger when people aren’t listening to what I have to say… that, of course, doesn’t happen here.

But in spite of Jesus’ anger in that moment, I want to stand in defense of the Pharisees in this instance.  I know that I often would be the first to criticize them for their inflexibility, for their inability to see the bigger picture, but the truth is that it wasn’t their job.  A commentary in the New Interpreter’s Bible says, “The Pharisees, scribes, and other religious authorities performed a socially necessary function of interpreting the Law so that people could use it to shape their lives.  Disputes over proper interpretations of the Law are as necessary a part of their social and religious landscape as are Supreme Court decisions in the United States.”  It’s important for us to not lump all of the Pharisees together as intolerant religious zealots who were bound by inflexible legalism.  Their job was to interpret the law.  In the Torah, they read that faithfulness could be found in carefully following the statutes and commandments of God.

It makes sense that some of them were concerned by Jesus’ actions that were not in line with how they interpreted the law.  Many of them understood that in order to follow the commandment “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind, and strength”, they had to follow the law to the letter.  The Pharisees were demonstrating love as they understood it. Their sincerity, their love of God, – as they understood it – should never be in doubt.

Jesus was showing them a different interpretation of the law, one based in love.  He was showing them a bigger picture beyond the narrower scope to which so many of them had become accustomed.  For the Pharisees, indeed for all of the people gathered there, this thing that Jesus was teaching them about – love – required more of them than any of them had signed up for.  The letter of the law… that’s easy.  Or, at least, it becomes easy with enough repetition.  If the law says that we’re supposed do something a certain way, and if we want to be faithful adherents to the law, then it becomes easy to do that something a certain way, if for no other reason, then because it’s the way we’ve always done it.

Jesus healed the man with the withered hand, and he did so on the Sabbath.  His disciples were plucking a little grain to eat on the Sabbath.  For some of the Pharisees – not all – these actions were not in keeping with the letter of the law, so they had concerns.  It doesn’t make their love of God any less valid.  But Jesus was challenging them, Jesus was practically imploring them to view love through a new lens.  Jesus was trying to pull them out of their comfort zones to view God through a lens in which love is the key factor always.  Love, first and foremost… always.  The God who loves, desires humanity to love one another.  The God who loves does not want our actions or our rigidity to be the cause of someone’s humanity being diminished.  Love is not expressed fully when people are hungry.  Love does not thrive when people are made to suffer.  How can love be present when hopelessness exists?  How can we love injustice?  How can we love and classify people in terms that are dehumanizing at the same time?

When Jesus talked about the love of God, he touched peoples’ hearts and minds.  He shared the love of God in ways that – at least until then – had never really been explored or understood.  Rather than define love in terms of the steps one must take in order to be obedient to God, it was being defined in a way that lifted others up, demonstrated humility and kindness over… well, over most everything.

If the Pharisees were going to listen to Jesus, then they were going to have to let go of some of the things they understood about love.  They were going to have to give up some of their deeply held religious beliefs so that they could gain a wider and deeper understanding of what it means to love God, what it means to love their neighbor.  If the Pharisees were going to listen to Jesus, then their understanding of ‘love’ was going to have to evolve.

When we consider our journey of faith, we may go into it thinking that we have a good understanding of what love is.  And then Jesus takes us deeper.  It’s natural for us to hear the language of people around us proclaiming that some people are not to be recipients of God’s love… or even of human dignity.  When we were younger, that language may have been more prevalent, but I’d daresay it is just as present today… just packaged a bit differently.

I was listening to a podcast this past week in which one of the speakers was talking about how easily members of the human race have been dehumanized in the past.  She gave multiple examples such as how women were subjugated, not allowed to even vote until 100 years ago, not allowed to have a credit card of their own until about 50 years ago.  She mentioned the three fifths determination in which African Americans were literally called 3/5 of a human being.  Native Americans were labeled as savages in spite of the thriving civilization that existed here long before our ancestors stood on the land.  Today, we hear people labeled with dehumanizing terms such as “illegal”, which only serves to ignore and diminish their humanity.  Today, we are constantly being told who we need to fear; we are constantly being told that people who don’t agree with us are our enemies.  It’s as if the man with the withered hand were standing in front of the people gathered in the temple and the Pharisees made the determination that making him whole would not be pleasing to God because of what day of the week it was.

Jesus teaches us about God’s love in such a way that should widen the boundaries of humanity to be more inclusive, more open, more kind.  God’s love, when placed at the center of our hearts, when made central to our very lives, must, by its very nature, grow.  It must evolve.  God’s love cannot be stagnant!  It can’t be something we place on a shelf and point to as proof that we have God’s love.  We cannot expect that our understanding of love that we held 20, 30, 50 years ago can be enough.  It has to grow, because there is more.  There is always more of God’s love, there is always more of God’s kingdom for us to explore and experience.  That is the very nature of God’s sanctifying grace, that we can evolve… that we can grow… that we can become more loving, more compassionate, more Christ-like in our lives.

Embracing God’s ever-expanding love is a way that enables us to see the expansiveness of God’s love more clearly.  When we do embrace that, we find ourselves blessed in ways that we could not have imagined.  The alternative is trying to grip that definition of love that we once knew, but that’s just a recipe for atrophy.

I think it’s safe to say that our understanding of loving God is different now than it was when we were children.  And that is so because it required us to let go of what we thought we knew.  Pat and George had to let go of what they understood about a loving marriage, so that they could thrive for decades beyond Pat’s diagnosis.  Pat’s life was a testimony to love.  She did more ministry from her wheelchair than most people could ever dream of doing in a lifetime on two good legs, because she allowed her understanding of what’s possible with God’s love to expand.  God always want to show us more.  God always wants to take us deeper.  God always wants to expand our understanding of what it means to love God, love neighbor, love one another, and even to love our enemy.

Let’s look to God’s love with wonder, discovering that there is always something new for us.  Let us trust in God, even when the letting go is hard.  Let us each invite Jesus to show us something new about what love means.  Let us be the new creations that God has in mind for us.

To God be the glory.