You don’t know what real love is until you see it.
One example of true love is Mary, the prostitute. Her love story is in Matthew 26. What does real love look like?
Jesus was in Bethany at Simon the leper’s house when “Behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil” (Luke 7:36-39).
Love is always in response to love. You can’t love until you’ve been loved and then only to the degree to which you’ve been loved. Love is never intrinsic. Love is simply given, received, acknowledged, shared and then returned.
Don’t miss here that Jesus is eating at the house of a former leper, Simon. I once spoke at a leper colony and to be honest, I had trouble even looking at the lepers as I taught them about the Bible. The lepers had been eaten away on the outside…and on the inside. Jesus loved Simon to wholeness. Simon simply responded in kind.
Many scholars believe that the same woman is described in both Matthew and Luke–Mary, a woman of the streets. The Son of God actually allowed a prostitute to anoint him. (That is just not proper.) Mary anointed Jesus because Jesus loved her to wholeness.
Love is not love unless it is in the presence of the unlovely. If our kids never did anything bad, how would they know we love them? Likewise, you would never know God’s love unless you did something bad. (I’m not telling you to go out and do something bad–as a sinner, you’ll do that anyway.) The fact is, until you understand your sinfulness, you won’t know the Father’s limitless love. Love is not something you earn. It is simply given. God loved us even when we were unlovely.
“A woman came to Him having an alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil, and she poured it on His head as He sat at the table. But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying ‘Why this waste? For this fragrant oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor’” (Matthew 26:7-9).
Love never counts the cost. It just acts, often surprised at the cost that was paid. You can tell the extravagance of love when you look back and say, “I don’t believe I did that.”
Do you remember O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi? The story is about a couple very much in love. They had only two possessions of worth: Della had beautiful, long hair and Jim had a pocket-watch his father gave him. With Christmas the next day and no money for gifts, Della cut her hair and sold it to a wig-maker in order to buy a chain for her husband’s watch. Meanwhile, Jim sold his watch in order to buy a pair of magnificent, jeweled combs for his wife’s hair. Even though she had no hair and he had no watch, the story had a happy ending. They loved each other and such love is extravagant. Love always reaches out. The depth of love depends on the unconscious nature of the acts of love. Love never stops to count the cost.
“‘Why go you trouble the woman? For she has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, but Me you do not have always. For in pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for My burial’” (Matthew 26:10-12).
While the disciples traveled with Jesus for weeks, they simply never listened and understood his message: “I’m going to be crucified for you.” The religious leaders didn’t understand either. Jesus tried to tell them, “I came here for you. I love you.”
Mary understood. In fact, you’ll always find Mary at Jesus’ feet. “And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word….[Jesus speaking] ‘But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her’” (Luke 10:39, 42).
One time a group of philosophers wanted a favor of blessing from the king. They met together, appointing one of the group to go in to talk with the king. When the philosopher walked into the throne room, he immediately fell down at the king’s feet. After hearing about it, the other philosophers stuck their noses up in the air, claiming that he had demeaned the discipline of philosophy. He answered their accusation with, “The king only listens with his feet.” Jesus listens in a lot of other ways. It is not absolutely necessary that you fall at his feet–he will love you anyway. Sometimes, though, if you sit by the Father’s feet and simply listen, you will learn love’s truth.
Looking back, I regret that I was never the kind of father to romp and play with his kids. Even though my daughters loved me and I loved them, there were times of doubt (especially during their teenage years). My daughters and I would probably have divorced one another if it weren’t for my wife, Anna. She loved the kids and she loved me. Anna would say to them, “Your daddy seems really gruff today, but he’s having a hard time. He really loves you. Let me explain some of the things he’s going through.” Then Anna would come to me and say, “You know, the kids act like they don’t care a thing about you, but let me tell you about them and how much they loved you.” My wife was a translator. You can only translate through love. As Christians, we are called to be translators of his love.
“‘Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will always be told as a memorial to her’” (Matthew 26:13). Paul wrote that only three things will last forever: “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).
You can work for almost anything you want in life. You may get it temporarily, but the only thing alive after you die is love.
The only thing alive after you die is love.
People have asked me over and over again, “What do I do with my kids? Do I add more rules”? I tell them this, “My best advice is to love them and then do whatever you want.” I’ve seen parents mess up everything, never read a book on childrearing and do everything wrong yet their kids were secure simply because they knew they were loved. I’ve also seen parents do everything right yet their kids were just awful for one reason…they knew they weren’t loved. If you love your kids and they know it, while they may be a long way from home, as prodigal sons or daughters wallowing in the mud with the pigs, watch and wait. Your kids will come back…because you love them.
What is the nature of love? It comes from the Father. It is active. It is shared. Christ taught, “‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another’” (John 13:34-35).
How well do you love? Mary’s love is still known to this day. That can be true of yours too. When we get Home, that love will still be alive. It will be a fitting end to our love story.
Time to Draw Away
Read John 3:16-17 & 1 Corinthians 13
In what ways have you experienced God’s love? How well do you love in return? The Father loves you–in your sin and struggle–unconditionally and extravagantly. It is his love for you that allows you to love others. And that love will last forever into eternity.