As Jesus continued down the road, a man ran up, knelt before him, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to obtain eternal life?”
Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except the one God. You know the commandments: Don’t commit murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t give false testimony. Don’t cheat. Honor your father and mother.”
“Teacher,” he responded, “I’ve kept all of these things since I was a boy.”
Jesus looked at him carefully and loved him. He said, “You are lacking one thing. Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.” But the man was dismayed at this statement and went away saddened, because he had many possessions. — Mark 10:17-22 (CEB)
We know that Jesus loved. However, maybe the place we see it most isn’t a miraculous healing, the feeding of the hungry, or the calming of storms. Let us consider this one instance in Mark’s Gospel where Jesus is explicitly said to love.
Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and is interrupted by a wealthy young man. We can assume his question to Jesus is asked sincerely. He places himself in a position of submission before Jesus and addresses him with high regard.
Our first indication that all might not end up happily is Jesus inquiring whether the man really understands what he is asking. Or maybe it’s a little bit like Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well — the man doesn’t really know who he is asking.
I don’t think Jesus is chastising him. I believe he wants the man to reflect on goodness. True goodness is not merely having less bad but represents a purity of spirit. Therefore, “No one is good except the one God.”
Jesus then begins discussing the things of God. Jesus could have started with the first four commandments that have to do with our relationship with God. This would make sense since the man had asked how to inherit eternal life. Instead, though, Jesus names certain commandments that have more to do with our life here on earth and our relationships with others.
Luckily the man already does these things! This is good news. But joy doesn’t last long. Jesus tells him he lacks one — and only one — thing. Rather than seeking to possess eternal life, he needs to shed his possessions giving the money to the poor, and then come and follow Jesus.
Really, how easy is this?
The man doesn’t need to keep any additional commandments or do something impossible. Just sell, give, come, and follow. But sometimes the easiest things to do actually seem the most impossible for us.
This man has everything going for him. He gets an A+ at life. However eternal life is not about acing the exam. But for this man, the grade is everything. He leaves downcast and grieving. We don’t know what this man did in the future. Maybe he realizes God’s goodness is the example of how we are to live. Maybe he eventually found his way to follow Jesus, joyful that he was no longer weighed down by all his possessions.
But regardless of what happens later, in the moment when Jesus encounters this man, gazes upon him carefully, aware of the man’s sincerity, truly seeing him for the one thing he lacks, and knowing he will walk way, Jesus loves him.
Jesus loves him
… even though the man refuses the answer Jesus gives him.
… despite what actions the man might take in the future.
… without making any further demands.
Jesus simply loves him.
We see this unmerited and undemanding love throughout the Gospels in Jesus’ words and actions. When Jesus is interrupted, he stops and listens. When he sees the outcast, he invites them in. When he sees the suffering, he heals them. When he sees the people lost like sheep without a shepherd, he teaches.
Jesus sees, and Jesus loves.
If I’m honest, I don’t really love like this. When I gaze upon someone and see that they are lacking and care not at all about remedying it, love is not my first response. Usually it’s judgment. What’s more, if someone falls out of my good graces, love decreases. My love is fickle and is usually determined by things you do and say.
But Jesus’ love is not dependent on whether he likes what he sees. It’s not dependent on our faith or whether we offer love in return. Jesus’ love comes from who he is rather than who we are. We are not beloved because we’re necessarily lovable. We are beloved by Jesus because Jesus loves.
In the Jesus’ final discourse in John’s Gospel, he uses the word love, 31 times — 6 as a noun and 25 as a verb. Ten of those times, it is paired with the word commandment. Jesus gives no other commands to his disciples on the night before he died other than to love one another.
1 John tells us that God is love and those who love God must love others (1 John 4:16, 21). There are never any other qualifiers. If we love God, we love others. That’s it.
Today is Valentine’s Day, a day we celebrate love. But really we are just celebrating those we choose to love. We don’t send cards and gifts to people we don’t like. It is not a day we think about those who reject us, say cruel words, or do mean things. That’s OK, because Valentine’s Day love is all about our feelings.
But the love of Jesus is about more than what we might be feeling.
The love of Jesus is about who we say we are and who we believe Jesus is. It is more than thoughts and prayers because this type of love requires words and actions. The gift of Jesus’ love is given to all. Each of us is beloved, and we can’t lose that love.
The challenge is whether we choose to see others with this same love or fail to love because we don’t like what we see. Amen.
Jesus, love incarnate, give us your eyes to see. When we tend towards judgment or believing the worst in people, let us remember that you loved with complete freedom. Your love is never dependent on good behavior or a lack of failure. This unfickle love is the legacy you left with us. May your love for us and our love for God overflow into our love for one another. Amen.