My son inherited a Voltron moneybox from his dad. It’s ugly as all getup, but hubby reckons it’s a collector’s item – this said while demonstrating a strange, primal connection to the faded plastic piece of, eh-hem, memorabilia.
Every so often our money-obsessed three-year-old upends its contents and either makes out he’s counting the coins or acts the pirate and hides his “treasure” around the house. In a recent attempt to avert the second outcome, I suggested he sort the coins into colours, then into sizes. It entertained him for a good 45 minutes!
At one point he came to me with three 20c pieces clutched in his little hand and said, “Mummy, can I put these in the bin? They’re dirty.” It was true. They were dirty, coated in grime of some description, tarnished, not as bright as the rest.
I said to him, “They are dirty, sweetheart, but they are just as valuable as the rest.”
As the words fell out of my mouth I heard echoes of Jesus’ teachings. I couldn’t speak for a moment as those relentless voices in my head – the ones that speak poison of, “You’re not good enough” and, “You’re weak” and, “You have nothing to give” – were suddenly silent. My tongue was like a fat wedge in my throat as I recalled the times I had judged others to be “not good enough” too.
I smiled into those wise little three-year-old eyes and prayed he would know beyond all doubt the immense love and value Jesus places on his life – on all life.
In the book of Luke we read of a party that Jesus went to hosted by Levi, a man who had only just given up his lucrative and prestigious life as a tax collector to follow him. As far as occupations went back then, tax collectors were scum. They were known for the questionable tactics they employed to fleece the poor and further line their own wealthy pockets.
This party was populated with the Who’s Who of the tax collecting fraternity and Jesus was quickly criticised for rubbing shoulders with people of such filthy morals.
Jesus’ response was this: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32)
And let’s face it, we’re all “sick”. We all have imperfections that pull us up short of true goodness. We’re all a little bit (or a lot) tarnished, coated in grime and not as sparkling as the rest. Even those self-righteous men who questioned Jesus – if they searched their hearts they would have found sickness in need of Jesus’ restorative message of unconditional love.
That’s the thing that’s so upside-down and against-the-grain with the love that Jesus demonstrated – and called us to replicate. It’s a direct challenge to the adage of “Love your friend, hate your enemy.”
“I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst,” Jesus said (Matthew 5:44, The Message).
“This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.” (verses 45-47)
Perhaps, like me, you need to begin by silencing the voices of self-loathing in your head first. Perhaps, like me, you need to remember that everyone has a story that fuels their – often hateful – words and actions. Perhaps, like me, you need to chew over the fact that God loves them as much as he does me.
Dirty, coated in grime, tarnished.
First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday June 23, 2014.