I was a strange little kid. That will come as no surprise to those that know me as an adult. Between running around the forest next to our house pretending to be an Ewok and being the God in Lego warfare games on the bedroom floor, I spent a lot of time what if-ing. What if I was the last person on earth (by the time I was 13 this included the current girl of my dreams also being alive)? What if I got selected to represent Great Britain in athletics? What if I was really rich? What if I could time travel? What if I WAS an Ewok? The truth it I haven’t really stopped what if-ing.
Recently I have thought about the words of Jesus and found myself thinking ‘What if he meant them?’ Don’t get me wrong, the faith I have dedicated my life to is one that has at its very foundation that Jesus very much meant what he was saying; but the reality is that if I truly believed them my life would look very different. Here are three Jesus sayings that I believe in some vague sense; but what if I really believed them?
‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself.’ (Matthew 22:39) The Greek word for love here is agape, unconditional, sacrificial, life changing love. The kind of love we tend to have for ourselves. The love for ourselves that accepts who we are, that understands our own weakness, that cares for and looks after ourselves. The love that treats ourselves to good things, that wants the best for ourselves. Ultimately the kind of love he is talking about if solely directed at us would be a ruthless selfishness for the very best of life; an unflinching commitment to our own good. That is how Jesus commands us to love others; with an undying, unconditional desire to see the greatest good come their way. What if I actually believed that? Well, I would complain less about other people’s flaws. I would spend more time with people. I would spend less on me and more on others. I would live more ethically and I would laugh and cry more often. Life would be very very different.
‘Love your enemies.’ (Matthew 5:43) There are so many stories of beautiful moments of reconciliation, when the victim or the family of a victim of some great crime reach out to the one that caused them such pain. Whether it is Pope John Paul II visiting and offering forgiveness to his would be assassin Mehmet Agca, or Nelson Mandela calling for a united Rainbow Nation after his long road of suffering at the hands of a racist apartheid government, stories of forgiveness resonate with something deep within us. This command, however, goes beyond forgiveness, it goes further on to love. It is not allowing someone to walk free from your anger and hate, it calls for that same love for our neighbour. Love your enemies as you love yourself for anything less leads to greater emnity; an escalation of hatred. What if I loved my enemies? What if those for whom I still carry anger and ill feeling were not just forgiven but loved as if they were my friends? My life would look very different.
‘Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.’ (Matthew 11:28) I think the heaviest thing we carry around with us is the detail of our life. Whether we deem ourselves as guilty and condemned because of sin that is already forgiven or we are tired from the pain of surviving with the fittest. Life grows heavy on our backs quite easily. We carry guilt, rejection, disappointment and doubt on our backs like weights in a bag. Like John Bunyan’s Pilgrim from his book Pilgrim’s Progress, the burdens on our backs can cause every day to feel like a struggle. What if, like Pilgrim, we came to Jesus and found rest as our burden is cut loose? What if I actually believed that my sins are forgiven and I can rest from the guilt? What if I believed that I am accepted in Jesus and found rest from the voices of those who rejected me in the past? What if I found hope in Jesus and rested from disappointment? What if I believed that the molecule of faith I can muster is enough and found rest if Jesus’ solid love for me? The rest my soul would enjoy would be freedom and joy, life giving release.
The challenge I am setting myself is to begin to live as if Jesus wasn’t messing around. I am committing to believing that when he commanded and encouraged us he was deadly serious. I want my life to look a little more like the life Jesus lived and called his followers to. I want to be an agent of love and freedom, that seeks the best for others whether they love me or not. I want to rest in a love, freedom and acceptance that allows me the breathing space to enjoy the life I was made for. I am going to reread the gospels and walk slowly enough through them to listen to what Jesus is saying. I am going to let his words seep deep into my soul. Why not join me; what if it actually works?