Changed By Love

A friend of mine recently remarked that Christianity seems like a game of bait and switch. It promises unconditional love, but once you’re in you have to follow the rules.

I can see why she thinks that. I wonder if Christians have a secret suspicion that she’s at least partially right. If not bait and switch, at least bait and hook.  All of this talk about change can sound like the hook of law hiding in the sweet morsel of love. The good news doesn’t sound so good.

I Love You. You’re Perfect. Now Change.

Her idea was well captured in the title of the second longest running Off-Broadway show in history, “I Love You. You’re Perfect. Now Change.” It was billed as a review of love, dating, romance, and marriage. But instead of the sweet sentimentality of an earlier generation it came with a cynical edge that matched our post-modern tastes, punctuated by catchy songs like “Men Who Talk, and Women Who Pretend They’re Listening.” No wonder it was a hit.

These days we’re savvy about love just like we’re savvy about shopping. We’ve learned the hard way that there’s no such thing as a free lunch or unconditional love. We’re no longer shocked when there’s a cost to the lunch and a catch to the love. That’s the way the world goes, so God’s love must go that way, too.

Of course we’re disappointed to find the rules behind the love, but not shocked.

 Unconditional Offer

We’re a little like the woman who came to the village well one day. John’s gospel tells us she came alone. In fact she avoided society, because her immoral reputation preceded her and brought the inevitable condemnation. Isolation was preferable. But today she was surprised to find someone sitting by the well. A man. A Jew. She was even more surprised when he spoke to her.

He asked her for water. A simple request but it broke so many rules. She blurted out her shock, but then he turned around and offered her water. She wasn’t used to being offered anything. Living water. That got her attention. The more he described it the better it sounded. If this was bait, she was biting. “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

Then came the hook, “Go call your husband, and come here.” She must have frozen inside. What made her think this Jew was any different from the other self-righteous jerks in her town? “I have no husband” was her curt reply, hoping to cut short the inevitable judgement and moral lecture that would follow.

But he surprised her again. “You’re right…What you have said is true.” Between those two phrases he summed up her entire miserable, law-breaking life. Five husbands in a row, and a sixth she hadn’t bothered to marry. He had his facts straight. After five rejections she wasn’t about to risk a sixth. She felt the hook of the law in his words, but for some reason he wasn’t reeling her in.

Instead he started talking about God, not a God who was about to judge her, but a Father who was seeking worshipers. Could he be seeking her? She grabbed at the only straw of hope that remained in her hopeless life. Messiah. “I know that Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will tell us all things,” she blurted.

And Messiah did. “I who speak to you am he.”

What Happened To The Hook?

The story is subtle. She doesn’t fall down and worship on the spot while the credits roll. But she does begin believing that he is who he said he is. And her behavior changes. She runs back into town, back to the people she was carefully avoiding, and begins telling everyone about this man. She changes.

Why? Because Jesus told her to clean up her life? No, it was because he held out his offer of living water with no strings attached, even though he knew the worst about her. His love for her was unconditional. In fact, his love was the love of a True Husband, the love she was so thirsty for. It was his love that changed everything.

What happened to the hook? After all she was a law breaker. That was fact. Jesus hints at the answer, “the hour is coming, and is now here…” What hour was he talking about? In John’s gospel it clearly refers to the hour of his death.

That’s why the bait of his love didn’t hide a hook, because he took the hook for her. She was forgiven by his death to come. That kind of love that doesn’t need a hook.

The unconditional love of Jesus makes us want to please the one who loves us like that.

The good news is we can’t help but be changed by his love.

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