I’ve been blogging through the Gospel of Mark this summer with some fresh eyes. The main thing that has struck me over and over and over again is the varied ways Jesus speaks to different groups people. And how often the way he speaks is not very nice and sweet and uplifting and…well, Jesus-y. It’s left me wrestling with what “love” looks like in our current political and cultural climate.
This quote from Dr. King keeps coming up in my timeline:
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
Honestly, this is a quote I adore, and have adored forever, because it is beautiful and succinct and true. But it is also a quote I am beginning to hate, because it is misunderstood and misused, and it makes love feel so damn easy.
Love is not easy. Love is not necessarily clear. Love is complicated. It’s messy. It’s hard to hash out what the loving thing to do is when it’s so dark you can’t even see your hand in front of your face. It’s hard to know what love looks like when the hate all around you is so visceral.
But things weren’t easy in Jesus’s day either.
Jesus lived in a society oppressed by Rome. Not only that, there was also oppression within that oppression. The local ruler, Herod, put burdens on the populace. Then the religious leaders piled more packs onto the backs of these same people. It was also a society — like just about every society all the way up till the present day to some degree — built on subjugation of women. The poor were oppressed with debtor’s prison. Slavery was still a thing. The sick were cast aside as “unclean.” Ethnic division between Jews and Samaritans had simmered in a centuries-old stew.
These divisions were real, they were deep, and they were ingrained. And mostly, they were accepted as fact. As “the way things are” or even “the way things should be” rather than something to be fought against, to be changed.
This is the world Jesus was confronting.
So I’m not sure why I am surprised that Jesus isn’t Jesus-y all the time. I’m not sure why it moves me that Jesus handles different classes of people differently. It should not be a revelation that “love” is not a “one-size-fits-all” t-shirt of daisies and hugs and a can of Pepsi to the oppressors.
And yet, I am.
Enter the man who is often called “the Rich Young Ruler.” He seems earnest. He seems compassionate. He seems like he wants to do the right thing. But there is … something … in his way.
As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
Jesus loved him…and told him to sell everything and give it to the poor.
Now, this man had done nothing wrong; he kept all the commandments. In fact, if he had just kept to himself and not gone to see Jesus, he probably could have lived a nice, guilt-free life. After all, it wasn’t his fault that he was rich, and it wasn’t his fault that other people were poor. That’s just the way things were. It’s the way they had always been.
But there was something in this man that longed for something different, for something better, for something more. So he went to see Jesus.
You can see Jesus hesitation in this short passage, because he doesn’t just drop the bomb at the outset. I don’t think Jesus wants to crush this earnest young man’s world. Or maybe he’s just testing his sincerity. In any case, Jesus’s first move is to run through a list of the commandments.
But the young man already has these down. And this list of rules for moral living is not enough. There is something missing. He wants it all.
And Jesus looks at him…and loves him. Jesus loves him enough to deliver the gut punch.
Sell everything. Give it to the poor. Follow me.
It’s really this part that trips up the rich man. He probably would have followed Jesus freely and gladly if he could keep all his stuff. Or even just keep some of it.
But all of it?
The young man was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
It’s funny, but the only people that Jesus is consistently Jesus-y with are the poor and the sick and the hungry. When he comes across those folks, he heals them and feeds them. Because love is always on the side of the marginalized. Maybe that should tell us something?
But as for everyone else…
Jesus loved his disciples. He loved them enough that he often got frustrated with them when he had to reexplain things to them over and over. Because patient love doesn’t mean you don’t get frustrated at the lack of progress. It just means that you don’t stop trying. You don’t give up on your allies, no matter how flawed they are.
Jesus loved the Pharisees. We know from other stories that he met with many of them who came to him at night and talked to them. But he was not nice to the Pharisees, not in public, because they were instruments of oppression toward those poor and marginalized we talked about earlier. And love is patient and kind, but love is not nice. Love that does not call out injustice by the powerful toward the poor is not love.
Jesus loved the rich young man. He loved him enough to tell him truth: that if he truly wanted to find what he was looking for, he was going to have to surrender his privilege. Because love that does not ask for more of the privileged than of the marginalized is not love.
Jesus loved the soldiers that would eventually kill him. He loved them enough to take every lash, every insult, and every nail without resisting. He took the worst that Rome — “the system” — could dish out, and he shamed their cruelty and exposed their moral bankruptcy with his forgiveness.
But that wasn’t all.
See, that is ultimately how you drive out hate. By rising again in love. Again, and again, and again.
For as long as it takes.