taking the words of Jesus seriously

Tonight I drove my close friend Michelle to the airport for an unexpected trip home to Denver. Hours earlier she had received a phone call from her mother share news that no one can be prepared for. That evening, someone had shot and killed her aunt and uncle in their home. The two youngest children were also shot and were being flown to Denver for emergency treatment. At that time, no other information was available. We were stunned. Michelle was in shock, which was understandable.

As I sat waiting to bring her to the airport, I found myself imagining the horrible scenario in my head, trying to make sense of this great tragedy. In my years as an inner city missionary and pastor, I have seen violence and death more than I care to think about. However, the thought of someone willfully turning a gun on helpless children chilled me to my heart. What kind of a person could do such a thing?

Where does ones mind and heart have to be for that to even be possible? Instead of answers, all I get are imagined flashes of the scene and I am left empty and tired, grieving for the family and for my friend.

It is the stark reality of this kind of human brokenness that we are confronted by the audacity of what Jesus calls us to live as His followers. How can we truly and meaningfully face the very first teaching of Christ on the topic of love, when his words were impossibly, “love your enemies”? How can we believe and obey these words while two innocent children fight for their lives while the blood of their murdered parents is still drying in the shattered peace and safety of their very home? How can we pray for those who cause such suffering- to stand between them and God and intercede for mercy?

Our “enemy” is rarely as clearly defined as we like to think. What if the assailant was not an unknown stranger? Perhaps it was a friend or a family member. What if their motives were not so clearly dark and malicious, but confused and clouded? Perhaps it was the last, most unlikely person you would expect. What if this horrible crime was committed by a child? Suddenly, the certainty of our abstract anger and judgment are thrown into the familiar reality of those closest to us. And in that horrible moment, we get a glimpse of how God feels when He sees one of His children harm another.

This is the offensive reality of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the love so radical, so unconditional that we can expect it to be rejected and scoffed at by the world- perhaps even by ourselves! And yet, as we see the true nature of the love God has for all His children, when we see what He willingly suffered so that all suffering and death could be defeated, such a gospel becomes an overwhelmingly humbling gift. Such love! It is the in the face of such absolute love that we are compelled to deeper reverence and devotion. It give birth in our hearts to an obedience so sincere that no threat of judgment or retribution could inspire its equal.

But such love does not simply happen. It is not a sentiment that Michelle or her family will instantly and glowingly feel for those responsible. It is a love borne of the cross, which comes to life out of the painful submission to the call of Christ. This love will the cross she will pick up daily, a cross she will sometimes drop. Yet this cross is the devastating equalizer, a hope only realized in the acknowledgment of the mutuality of our brokenness with even the “worst of sinners”. Consider carefully before following the call of Jesus Christ and bear His name, for when He calls, “He bids him come and die”.

Jamie Arpin-Ricci. CJ, is a writer, 3rd order Franciscan and pastor of Little Flowers Community (www.littleflowers.ca) an inner city church plant in Winnipeg, MB. He is the author of the forthcoming “The Cost of Community: Jesus, St. Francis & Life in the Kingdom” (IVPress, Nov 2011). He blogs regularly at www.missional.ca.

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