In Jesus, God saves us by becoming so vulnerable that we are able to kill him in a vile and humiliating way. The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus assure us that God's offer of friendship will never be withdrawn, no matter what we do. If the cross did not result in a withdrawal of the offer, then nothing we do will lead to a change of God's heart. We can, however, refuse the offer. Friendship is a mutual relationship, and a person has to accept the offer; he or she cannot be coerced or tricked into it. And any human being's final refusal of God's friendship breaks God's heart. Still, God does not turn away from such a person in anger and rage. God lives eternally with a broken heart. That's how vulnerable God wants to be.
Those of us who are parents can relate to God's vulnerability. There is a saying that having a child is like putting limbs on your heart and setting it free in the world. We have this intense love for our children - no matter what - that indeed makes us vulnerable.
In my family's experience, we have had many a talk with our grown children about the extent of our love for them. Afraid that in these beginning years on their own they might lose their way at some point, make some mistake they think is unforgivable, or something awful might happen that tears them away from us, we have tried to make it perfectly clear that we will ALWAYS love them, and that they are welcome home under absolutely any circumstances. We probably give them that speech more often than necessary, but we're doing all we can to drill it deep into their psyche. You are always loved, you are always welcome, and nothing will ever change that. There is a lot that can happen in this world-sometimes by one's own choices and sometimes by force-and nothing terrifies us more than losing our children. Indeed, if they ever turn their back on us we would be completely heartbroken, but we wouldn't give up on them. Ever.
Imagine that love we have as parents is merely a small reflection of the vulnerable, all-invested love that God has for us all. God's heart carries a perfect love, even greater than that of a parent for a child, for each and every one of us. For me, that's unfathomable. Jesus tries to give us a sense of it in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but as we know, Jesus used parables to give us a glimpse of understanding into something far greater than we could possibly comprehend. Thus, that parable shows us that the love of the forgiving father is just the beginning.
Now here's the challenge. The all-invested, life-changing love that a parent has for a child is also just the beginning. We are called to be disciples on this earth, to serve others and to treat others as Jesus would. Does that not mean that the intense love between a parent and child should be the same love we offer every child of God? The Lenten season is an opportunity for us to grow in discipleship in anticipation of the resurrection, when all will love and be loved perfectly. What better way to prepare than to practice the loving-kindness of God?
May you be blessed throughout Lent, particularly during Holy Week, and may Easter bring you joy!
Rev. Dr. Shannon Smythe
United Presbyterian Church