As we grow ever deeper in our understanding of what Jesus taught, some of His teachings that initially had seemed to be simple common sense begin to seem more and more profound and confounding, and more and more challenging for us to live. This is partly because of the way that the teachings interact in our minds as we live them, but it seems to be mainly because the longer we live our daily lives in close proximity to Jesus’s mind, the more we begin to think like Jesus.
For example, “Then His mother and His brothers came, and while standing outside they sent word to Him, calling for Him. And a crowd was sitting around Him, and they said to Him, ‘Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are outside looking for You.’ Answering them, He said, ‘Who are My mother and My brothers?’ And looking around at those who were sitting around Him, He said, ‘Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God, this is My brother, and sister, and mother’” (MK 3:31-35). This seems like a cruel thing for Jesus to say, until you come to know Him better. But then you realize how central to Jesus’s thinking is His definition of genuine love as universal! He is not telling us in that passage from Mark that He loves His family members any less than you love yours, but rather He is telling us that He loves everyone with the same deep, intense, and perfect love that He has for His own family. And it is our learning to live at this same universal level of love for all of humankind that is the entire reason why we enter these lifetimes on earth.
Only when we can internalize this profound level of universal love will we understand what Jesus means by the following passage: “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts on them, will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and its collapse was great” (MT 7:24-27).
For Jesus, love is not an emotion, but rather it is an intense and profound and unchangeable, utterly constant way of being. He talks about that way of being in First Corinthians Thirteen, which Jesus reportedly channeled through the Apostle Paul. He said: If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give away all my possessions to charity, and if I surrender my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
“Love is patient, love is kind, it is not jealous; love does not brag, it is not arrogant. It does not act disgracefully, it does not seek its own benefit; it is not provoked, does not keep an account of a wrong suffered, it does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth. It keeps every confidence, it believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
“Love never fails. But if there are gifts of prophecy, they will fail. If there are tongues, they will cease. If there is knowledge, it will be done away with. For now we know in part and prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away with. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up all childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known. But now faith, hope, and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1Cor 13).
When you have become that deep and constant level of universal love for all of humankind, you will build your house on the rock no matter what the cost. And the turbulent twentieth century gave us good examples of people who had built their spiritual houses on the solid rock of Jesus’s love for all of humankind. Two Christian ministers stand out in particular for their fearless love for all of humankind in the face of great evil:
You and I follow Jesus in the wake of giants. There can be no more ideal examples than these two beautiful young men of people whose houses were built on the rock of the perfect universal love that Jesus taught. They lived at two of the worst moments in history, when Nazi Germany and the racist American South washed away so many whose houses had been built upon shifting sand. Both Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King, Jr. had only set out to live decent lives. They were not asking for trouble. As Dr. King said, “Like anyone, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place.” Most of the people who were alive where and when they each lived their lives had built their spiritual houses on the unsteady sands of no solid principles, so when the Nazis and the haters came, those others had no solid rock beneath the houses they had built, and as the troubles rolled in for their respective generations, those troubles washed most of those others away. But the few who had built their houses on the immovable rock of the universal love that Jesus taught stood strong! Neither Dr. Bonhoeffer nor Dr. King enjoyed being a hero. Watch Dr. King’s face in those old clips: he was never glad to be making history. And no picture of Dr. Bonhoeffer exists wearing more than a half-smile that never reached his eyes. But living where and when each of them lived, there on that solid rock of universal love for humankind with Jesus, they each did what they knew that they had to do. They could have done no other.
To love as Jesus loves is to love as Dietrich Bonhoeffer loved, and as Martin Luther King, Jr. loved. Or else to miss out on the love that matters, which means to never really love at all.