Love Undeserved

In Mark 10, a story is told about a rich, young man who comes seeking answers from Jesus. Approaching Jesus along his journey, he sought an immediate audience.  Mark actually tells us he ran right up to Jesus and knelt before him. Interrupting Jesus’ journey did not seem to concern him at all. He had weighty questions on his mind. Was it arrogance or desperation that drove him? Either way, Jesus didn’t rebuke him or push him aside. Instead, Jesus stopped and listened to him.

“Good teacher” He addressed Jesus. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He asked.  We know very little about this man, but a combined look at the three gospels gives us a short bio. He is young, he is a ruler of something (scholars suggest a local synagogue) and he is rich. This man had everything going for him by human standards–youth, prominent position, and wealth. But he was still searching. He knew something was missing. He addressed Jesus as good, and called him “teacher” indicating spiritual respect. So this man really was looking for answers, and felt like he had finally come to the right place.

Maybe he was looking for affirmation that what he had done was enough. For when Jesus reminded him of the commandments, he confidently asserted that he had kept all of them since his youth! All of them? That’s what he claimed. This man certainly seemed to have a confidence in his track record.

When Jesus heard this proud, even cocky response, he looked on the man and loved him. Jesus loved this self-important, rich guy. He loved him in the middle of all his own blindness, right where he was, begging for some kind of affirmation that he was indeed scheduled to receive eternal life. I am brought up short by this. In so many stories of the gospels we see Jesus loving the unloved, the undeserving, the marginalized, the desperate, the needy. We see him stooping to the lowest levels of humanity, touching the untouchables, healing the deformed, and forgiving the morally bankrupt. But in this story, we see Jesus loving someone who is undeserving in a totally different way. He isn’t needy. He isn’t outcast. He isn’t sick. He is young, proud and prosperous. 

I consider  the people in my own community who desperately need God’s love,  and I find that I often overlook people who fall into this man’s category. Their self-sufficiency is off-putting. But it didn’t stop Jesus. He saw this man lost, blind, and terribly misguided.

And because Jesus loved him,  he didn’t offer affirmation. Rather, he exposed the deepest issue of his heart. “Go,” He told the man. “Sell all you have and give to the poor. Then come and follow me, and you will have treasure in heaven.” It’s not the selling of goods, or the giving to the poor that results in eternal life. That wasn’t the point of what Jesus said. Jesus cut right to the heart of what the man trusted in: his own wealth and accomplishments. And he said, “Get rid of it, and trust in me instead.”  Jesus’ love for this man was intense, invitational, and expectant.

As I pray for our city, Milwaukee, as I ask God for his power and his presence to be evident among us, I am reminded of Jesus’ example of love undeserved. And I’m driven to beg him for that kind of love to infuse every encounter I have. Let me love “the least of these” and the “greatest among us.” Let me love the undeserved, the self-sufficient, the angry, the demanding, the impetuous. Let me love like Jesus loves.

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