October 25, 2020

Love Passes By the “Righteous”


You see, it really is all Jesus’ fault – he goes and does the one thing you’re never supposed to do, even to strangers, let alone to friends and neighbors: He tells them the truth, the truth about their pettiness and prejudice, their fear and shame, their willingness, even eagerness, to get ahead at any cost, even at the expense of another. And so they want him gone in the most permanent of ways.

– David Lose, “Three Questions and a Promise”

* * *

It is better to be a person of love than to be a person who is always right.

Those who place the highest priority on being right cannot help but being judgmental. I am right and you are wrong, therefore I am better than you and you are less than me. I don’t have to listen to you because you don’t think right. It is better for me to gather together with those who think like I do — the right-minded — so that we can affirm and celebrate our rightness and rail against the wrong opinions, actions, or customs of those who are not us.

A person of love does not ignore distinctions of right and wrong. Love, however, finds a way of transcending them. The wrong one is still a neighbor. Though he may be genuinely mistaken or misguided, I refuse to let that be the defining issue between us. My neighbor still has human needs, and to the extent I can help meet them, why shouldn’t I? My neighbor still has gifts to offer me, and why shouldn’t I accept them? My neighbor remains God’s creation, fearfully and wonderfully made, filled with the breath of life, a fellow human being God has placed in my vicinity or awareness, one for whom the bell tolls when life ebbs away and I am lessened.

And who knows? I might even learn something “right” from my neighbor along the way.

JesusIconNazarethIn his home town at the synagogue service, in the presence of the righteous, Jesus spoke about speaking good news to poor people, people at the margins, people we shun, people we often criticize for their laziness and devious ways. We avoid that part of town. We stay on our side of the tracks. Their lives have gone wrong, and it might very well be their fault. We don’t know them and don’t care to know them. (How then can we speak good news they can hear? And what if they might have good news for us?)

On that day, Jesus spoke of captives and of the blind and oppressed. Those who heard him in Nazareth nodded their heads as he spoke. They were actually good with that. Theoretically.

However, when he started putting names to the nameless, their resistance began to rise. Foreigners. Zarephath. Sidon. Syria. These were names signifying those who had proven themselves perennially wrong — wrong in their opinions, wrong in their commitments, wrong in their religion, wrong in their politics, wrong in their customs, wrong in their lifestyles. Jesus’ hometown friends, on the other hand, were Israelites, God’s chosen people. The righteous.

So once Jesus started showing how God had sent prophets time and time again to the “wrong” kinds of people and not simply to the “right” kinds of people, and how the righteous chosen ones had not welcomed God’s messengers but the idol-worshiping, immoral foreigners had, well, it simply became too much for them.

That’s when they did when people who are more concerned about being right than loving have done throughout history: they turned against him. They got violent. They tried to silence the Voice that was speaking words with which they disagreed, which threatened their constricted world and comfortable lives. Jesus had pricked the balloon of settled self-righteousness and out rushed the foul air of fear, prejudice, rage, and bullying.

From the midst of their fury, he walked away.

And what became of those he left behind? Who once more let love pass them by?


  1. Well, you see, they saw themselves as the captives, the blind and the oppressed; those under the heel of Roman occupation who needed to be extricated by the hand of the Redeemer. They thought Jesus was talking about them, that he had come to announce that God was acting in him to free them; so it was a shock when he said, in effect, that the captive, blind and oppressed that he came for were among the gentiles, including the Romans, because they would honor him while the his own people would not. At that moment, they viewed him as a traitor, and wanted to kill him along with their Roman oppressors.

  2. Elegantly written and truthfully expressed. Thoughts that I have never been able to clarify with a few paragraphs.

  3. I recently did a short devotion on Samson, who seems like the epitome of wrongness. But he had the main thing right: deliver the captive Israelites from the hands of the Philistines. How did the Israelites return the favor? They sent 3,000 men to deliver Samson over to the Philistines.

  4. “It is better to be a person of love than to be a person who is always right.”

    Thank you for that reminder. May we have the courage and the humility to live out this truth and respond to others from a heart that is being transformed by the uncompromising love of God.

    • It is true that mercy triumphs over judgement, but in the example that you gave of Jesus, I don’t see where He had to choose between being a person of love vs. being a person who is always right.
      False dichotomy, at least in His case.

  5. This message is particularly relevant in the UK at the moment, regarding the bill that will allow same-sex couples to marry. There has been much, debate, frustration, and anger from both sides (within the church as well), not enough love.
    My prayer is that, whatever the outcome, we will all learn to love more.

  6. Christiane says

    a beautifully written, very ‘catholic’ post (in the best sense)

    Something has gone wrong with Christian fundamentalists . . . many are teaching that God hates people . . .

    is there anything we can do to help them, Chaplain Mike ?

  7. David Cornwell says

    I love this. Thanks. Plus I need to hear it, not just once but many times.

  8. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Those who place the highest priority on being right cannot help but being judgmental. I am right and you are wrong, therefore I am better than you and you are less than me.

    Low-talent hack writer Jerry Jenkins built his entire Christian best-seller career (recently parlayed into a high-priced vanity press operation) from flattering his target audience with that attitude. (Those “Just Like You, Dear Reader”…)

    And for that matter, so did Ayn Rand. Atlas Shrugged is just Left Behind for Objectivist Brights. The two works have many things in common, including pitching to the attitude described by both Chaplain Mike and Thomas Merton:

    “On the contrary, in the devil’s theology, the important thing is to be absolutely right and to prove that everybody else is absolutely wrong. This does not exactly make for peace and unity among men, because it means that everybody wants to be absolutely right himself, or to attach himself to another who is absolutely right. And in order to prove their rightness they have to punish and eliminate those who are wrong….”
    — Merton, “Moral Theology of the Devil”