Love Rejected (Keeps on Loving)

“Jesus, you should leave Galilee, because Herod wants to kill you.”

Were the Pharisees who brought this warning to Jesus trying to protect him, or threaten him? I wonder if it was any clearer to him than it is to us?

Regardless of their intentions, Jesus’s response dismisses both the warning and the threat.

“I’ve been healing and casting out demons, and that is what I will continue to do, whether Herod likes it or not. And I am on my way out of Galilee, but not because of Herod. I’m going to Jerusalem, because if I’m going to be rejected, that is where it needs to happen—not in Galilee—not by Herod.”

And then, as if he turns his face toward the distant Jerusalem—the gentle slope of ground that will eventually swell into the temple mound and the city on a hill—Jesus speaks to the city itself.Image

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills prophets and stones those who are sent to it. How I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing.”

What propels Jesus out of Galilee and toward Jerusalem is not fear of Herod, but love for Jerusalem. Love for a city that he knows will reject him, because it has always rejected those God has sent in love.

Throughout Lent, we will be exploring the ways Jesus teaches us about love, and demonstrates to us what God’s love looks like, and this week’s story gives us a striking image of one of the most painful kinds of love—the love that keeps on loving and keeps pursuing relationship even when rejection seems inevitable.

I have not experienced this stage of life, yet, but I suspect that this is a kind of love that is honed and tested by the parents of teenagers. Am I right? This is the kind of love that aches while it watches a teenager shut down and stop communicating and stop trusting Mom and Dad’s opinion. This is the love that longs to protect—longs to prevent that son or daughter from making bad decisions, but just keeps on loving, even when the bad decisions are made.

This is the love that keeps saying, “I’m here if you need to talk,” even when the only response is rolled eyes. This is the love that says, “I can’t help you out of this mess, this time, but I still love you and that will never change.” This is the love that says, “I will love you, even if you reject me, even if you ignore me, even if you pretend that you don’t know me.” This is the love that keeps loving even in the face of hurtful words and disappointing behavior.

And on the other end of life, I think there are times when this is the love that sits next to a parent or a spouse with dementia and insists, “I will love you even if you don’t know who I am.” It is the love that says, “I will love you even if your paranoia makes you afraid of me.” “I will love you even if you stop behaving like yourself. Even if I have trouble recognizing that you are in there. I will still love you and protect you.”

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And then there are the parents and siblings and children and friends who persist in loving someone who struggles with addiction or severe psychiatric conditions or criminal behavior. This is the pain of loving someone who you can’t let into your home, because they might steal things. This is the pain of having to call the police because the person you love is threatening you and you can’t trust that they can get themselves under control. This is the pain of loving someone who is making such self-destructive decisions that their life is at risk, and there is nothing you can do to save them.

And let’s not forget the less dramatic, but equally painful experience of conflict with someone you love, or want to love. The sibling who can’t get over a perceived slight. The son who has cut himself off from the family with no explanation. The parents who are divorced and cannot behave civilly towards one another, even for their daughter’s wedding.

Love can really hurt. If there is one thing I’ve learned as a pastor, it is that none of us are immune. Somewhere, in some relationship in our immediate, or extended family, we’ve all been touched by the pain of love rejected.

And it really hurts to keep on loving, doesn’t it?

What we see in this story from Luke is that Jesus has felt it, too. Jesus knows the pain of love rejected, and I can’t help but believe that he is also speaking the heart of God, in these words. God knows what it is like to long to protect someone from pain, or from harm, or from self-destruction, and have that loving protection rejected. Every time we have experienced the pain of love rejected, God has been right there with us. “Oh, how I have longed to gather you together like a hen gathers her brood, but you were not willing.”

Is enough to know that God is in it with us? Does it help to know that God shares our pain? Maybe.

But I think there is more. I believe that one of the messages we see in the cross and resurrection is that ultimately, love is stronger than rejection, stronger than death, stronger than all the forces that pull people apart. We might not always see it fulfilled in this life, but I believe that God’s love is big enough and strong enough to heal every broken person and every broken relationship. I believe our faithful, and sometimes painful love will never be a waste of energy. Even when we feel that our love is rejected, it is not a waste—that love is wrapped up in the love of God—in the power of the God who is Love, and Love will always win.

Gretchen has drawn us another beautiful illustration for this week’s bulletin—an image of a person on a journey, faced with choices that lead to ruin or to life and beauty. And on either side are people who care. People who love, and pray, and hope—people who will experience pain if that person heads down the road to destruction.

Image drawn by Gretchen Mero, 2013
Image drawn by Gretchen Mero, 2013

But I want us to add something to this picture in our imaginations. See, I believe that the hope we have in Jesus is this—that way down that path to destruction, where all we can see is bleakness and pain and death—far down beyond the horizon, the cross is there, too. God is on every road of our lives—every road our loved ones choose. That doesn’t mean that all roads are equal. Some choices really are destructive and dangerous and hurtful, and we do and should pray fervently for our loved ones that they would make good choices and be spared some of those sorrows. But even when we see a loved one headed straight down the road to ruin, we can believe that God is on that road, too, hurting with us, weeping with us, loving with us. And just as we persist in love even when it hurts, God persists longer. God’s love is even more stubborn. God’s love is able to withstand even more hurt and rejection. The end of every life’s journey will be the love we see on that cross. The love that knows rejection, and keeps on loving. Love always wins.

There is a song that keeps coming to mind this week, and I would like to share it with you. The text is from Desmond Tutu, and the tune was written by John Bell.

(This song can be heard on track 8 of the recordings on the Iona Abbey album, “Love and Anger”–samples are available for listening, if you click this link)

Goodness is stronger than evil.

Love is stronger than hate.

Light is stronger than darkness.

Life is stronger than death.

Victory is ours, victory is ours through him who loves us.

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