Summary: Year C. Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany. January 28, 2001
When Jesus’ own townsfolk received him back home, he was like the hometown boy who made good. Externally at first it looked like they were accepting him. Then, later, it became clear that that acceptance was contingent upon approval. Now, Jesus did not do anything wrong. He merely spoke. They did not approve of what he said. He said that God loved all people, even Gentiles. He quoted instances from Scripture to prove his contention. That made them contentious and angry. They took back their initial acceptance, even trying to kill him. What happened to Jesus in this story telescopes the entire history of humanity and the personal history of all of us. No wonder we need God himself to save us from ourselves. The “human problem” begins with the difference between acceptance and approval. Uncorrected by Christ, it ends with the “final solution” of a Hitler.
Conditional and Unconditional Love: Conditional love says, “I will love you if…” Unconditional loves says, “I love you because…” Conditional love is ‘approval” love. If you meet my conditions, if you do things the way I approve of, if you eat all your peas and wash your hands before dinner, and gets “A’s, then and only then will I love you. I reserve the right to withdraw my approval love at any time, without prior notice, without negotiations. I may or may not re-instate you into my good graces. Even if you change and meet my conditions, I still may withhold my approval, since you disappointed me once and there is no forgiveness for offending his or her royal highness, me. A person may do ninety-nine things we approve of, but if that person has just one thing wrong with him or her like wrong skin color, wrong gender, wrong age, wrong sexual orientation, wrong political party, wrong language, the list is endless, then I feel justified in rejecting that person. However, rejection has to do with ‘acceptance” love, not unconditional love. Unconditional love accepts a person for being, not for doing, as the person is, with or without approving of that person’s doing, acting, behaving. Conditional love, when moderated by unconditional love, might disapprove of a person’s behavior, but not reject the person doing the misbehaving. Unconditional love says, “I love you because you are.” You are made by the same God who made me, loved by the same God who loves me, valued by the same God who values me. This God always loves me, but does not always like what I do. The same is true for you. He loves you as much as he loves me, no conditions on that, no question about that. At times, he may disapprove of my behavior, but he does not kill me for it, does not even reject me for it. So, why should you or anyone else? Everyone has a right to be, even if we do not do right. That’s God’s rule. We do not get to decide, unless we kill. And most killing, be it killing the body or killing a person’s good name, stems for the mistaken belief that the killer is the arbiter of who lives, who is worth it, who is approved. God loves us both ways. He loves us unconditionally. At the same time, he loves us so much that he does not want us to stay the way we are. He loves us into changing. So, he also loves us conditionally. He puts down conditions, things he wants us to do. However, with God if we do not meet His conditions, he does not withdraw his unconditional love, he simply disapproves. One day it will be time for us to live out the consequences of that disapproval, but not today, not now. He is banking on us to love him so much in return that we will meet his conditions freely, because, because we also love him unconditionally, that we want to please him. Once we get this crucial distinction down between accepting unconditional love and approving conditional love, we can deal with our own emotions. We can admit what we do not like in a person, even in ourselves, without going to the extreme and killing all hope of change by rejecting others or self on the flimsy excuse that our feelings ache or that the challenge to change our minds about people is too great.