This is the time of the year where we get all sorts of answers to that question. It may be easy to get overwhelmed with the suggestion that love is candy, teddy bears or sparkly diamonds. But I’m convinced that Valentine’s Day is about more than the gift being given, it serves as an opportunity for people to share feelings of love, affection and friendship. I found myself thinking about how focusing on those very things all year long is a lot of what we do here at the Jesus Center, and about stories of biblical love.
Several biblical stories come to mind where Jesus interacts with those in need or with outcasts:
- Zacchaeus, the tax collector hiding in the tree
- A 38-year old man at the pool of Bethesda, wishing for healing for decades
- The hemorrhagic woman, pulling on the hem of Jesus’ garment
- The paralytic that got lowered into the house, on a mat by his hope-filled friends.
These stories demonstrate “what Jesus would do.” First, it is not a formula. Each encounter is personal and contextual. Second, Jesus is compassionate; Jesus is challenging; Jesus is counter cultural; Jesus is generous. Jesus uses a whole toolbox of responses!
I would go as far as to say that these encounters show us not just how to interact, but how to LOVE. Love isn’t all puppies and rainbows like Hallmark cards in the Safeway card section. Sometimes love is straightforward and directive. Sometimes it is filled with mercy and forgiveness, other times it is perspective giving. Sometimes it looks like an immediate response to need.
In all of these stories, Jesus’ Love is PROXIMATE to use a word that author, Bryan Stevenson uses so well. It is a word to describe “coming near,” “joining,” “kinship,” and ultimately it describes a Jesus kind of love. Jesus’ incarnation is an embodiment—God’s love in the flesh.
“You can’t understand most of the important things from a distance. You have to get close, ... Proximity has taught me some basic and humbling truths, including this vital lesson: Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”
—Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
What does love look like for us?
Here at the Jesus Center we focus on opportunities to come close.
In public discourse, we unite around projects and collaboratives that our wins to help folks change their lives. We choose out of a gloom and doom way of viewing things.
We practice kindness: Buy a flower and give it to someone. (See below for opportunities to give the gift of flowers AND support our vocational training programs.)
Take one step closer: Volunteer, learn, give.
We can learn from Jesus how to treat those in need around us. 1. Choose to be before choosing to do. Greet and welcome. Look into their eyes. Ask someone their name. Say hello. If you have time, inquire as to their wellbeing, their history or their needs. 2. If you want to do something, think immediate and think long term. Instead of giving money, a bottle of water or a soft protein bar are great as short-term offerings. This time of year, a hand warmer or a pair of socks are welcome. For long term transformation and opportunity, send them to the Jesus Center as a great starting place or straight to shelter to the Torres Shelter for men and to Sabbath House or Torres for women. An easy way to refer is to say:
“I work with/support the Jesus Center to help those in need. They are best suited to help you.”
Our staff and the volunteers, groups, and partners we organize, and coordinate are a mighty team of those committed to come close. I see it every day.
Please join us in getting just a bit closer to those who struggle every day. Let us pick up our corner of the mat for the “paralytic” near us to bring him or her closer to a place of full transformation.
Laura R. Cootsona