Tumbling in the Sand
“So you, mortal, I have made a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.” – Ezekiel 33:7
What does it mean to love? I ask this question, because it seems to be at the heart of all of our readings for Sunday. The texts all seem to want to talk about, point to, and instruct a community of people, built around faith in a living God, and held together in the bonds of love.
But what does it mean to love in that context? In the context of a community? How do we love one another in community?
Sometimes, I think we think that it means that we never say anything hard or challenging because that doesn’t feel loving. Or compassionate. Or peace-full. Or nice. After all, isn’t the church supposed to be the place where everyone gets along? And isn’t that what love’s about? Always getting along? Always making people feel comfortable? Isn’t that what we are taught about white lies? Little non-truths that “keep the peace” even if they might mask a little hurt?
Not apparently … or at least not always … at least not if you look at what Ezekiel and Jesus have to say.
It seems like in both these texts (from Ezekiel and Matthew), of critical importance to the health of the community (the salvation of the community!) and loving each other, is truth telling. And sometimes telling the truth is hard and challenging. Sometimes the truth leads to conflict and struggle. Sometimes the truth hurts and feels entirely unloving.
I think that is probably because we don’t like to admit to ourselves that we drift from the truth sometimes. That we, well, get things wrong or that we sometimes hurt other people. But, of course, even though we don’t want to admit it — we do. We all do. We all get things wrong; and even worse, sometimes we don’t even see what we’re doing. And that’s why we really, really, really need a community of people who love us enough to let us know when we get off track.
And I think that is actually the grace in all of this. The assumption in the text is that we are all people who will get things wrong. We don’t have to somehow be perfect or always get it right to belong to the community. It’s okay that we mess up. And that’s what love is for: to tell us the truth about ourselves and teach us about grace by practicing it with each other.
Essentially, I think the grace in this could be stated as a particularly favorite quote of mine from Mother Theresa: “Without mistakes there is no forgiving. Without forgiving there is no love.”
In other words, what does it mean to love? It means to be broken and in need of forgiveness. It means to be forgiven and to forgive. It means to care enough about each other to practice grace and truth one on one and together as community. It means to recognize and live that healing begins where the brokenness is.