I show a documentary on Mother Teresa to my spiritual formation classes. There are a few groans when I first tell the class of this topic, but any hesitance is quickly changed to awe as the story of her life unfolds. You can hear a pin drop during the video. The film catches the essence of the ministry of this wonderful woman. Mother Teresa loved the poor. God called her to a life of service to the poorest of the poor. She accepted this call and immersed herself in the service and love of the people. It has not mattered who the viewer in my class might be, we are all touched by this love. I have showed this to the toughest athletes and to women hardened by years in prison. I do not know of a person in these classes (and beyond for that matter) who is not inspired by the life of Mother Teresa. What is it about her that inspires such awe? Mother Teresa lived a life of profound love. This love did not make sense—it was beyond the understanding of the world. This small, seemingly fragile woman loved against all odds and impacted the lives of milions.
Mother Teresa lived this love in obedience to her Lord Jesus. This command is not a secret, Jesus repeatedly told his disciples to love in a way that did not make sense to the world. “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.,” “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.,” “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Christ was a person who knew how to love and he requires this of those of us who would call ourselves his disciples.
What does this command mean for me in today’s world? Is it possible for me to love as Jesus intended? Am I called to live like Mother Teresa? We are not all called in the same manner, but it is clear that we are to love. The world is full of hurting people. It cries out for love and compassion. Can I be an instrument of love in my context and in this world? It is not easy. We are surrounded by evil–ISIS, the shootings in the schools and churches, hate crimes, violence. It is on the front page of every newspaper and on every news program. How am I to love in these conditions?
Brother Moody, for whom the Moody Bible Institute is named, speaks of an encounter with two older women in his congregation. He was a young preacher at the time and was leading a “successful” work. The church was growing numerically and by all appearances was all that it should be. The two women came to him and told him that God had placed on their hearts that they needed to encourage him to pray for a deeper understanding of God’s love. They were both quite earnest in their sharing and seemed to think he really needed this message. He was kind and thanked them, but inwardly was a bit irritated. Were they not aware of the success of his ministry? Why would they think he was not closely attuned to God? He put the women out of his mind for a few days, but then the Spirit prompted him to reconsider. He realized he was allowing his pride to keep him from the kind encouragement given by the women. He began to pray for a deeper understanding of God’s love. Many years later, he reflected on that time of his life. He said that after a time of praying he had to say, “Stay your hand, Lord! It’s too much.” He said that before that time in his ministry, he was carrying bucket loads of love to people out of his own resources. From that time on, he was swept away in the river of God’s love and became a conduit of God’s unfathomable love.
These giants and others of the Christian faith agree on one foundational principle of the character of God. It is the unfathomable love that was manifest in God incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ. We, the church, the body of Christ, are called to live out this love as we continue Christ’s work on earth. Jesus charged us “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.”
So, we accept this charge to love in a profound way. This is not about the love I have for my friends and family. This is certainly important love, but it is not out of the ordinary. “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them!” We love in a way that does not make sense. On a small scale, I love the people who irritate me or who do not treat me well. This does not mean I do not have healthy boundaries, it means I have a heart that desires their best interest. On a grand scale, it means that I am the voice that cries for reconciliation and redemption in all acts of violence. I am the peacemaker; I am the one who stands against the tide of hate.
The paradox in this teaching is that this is not human love–it is divine. I cannot love this way through my own efforts. There are times that I am too hurt; too horrified to be the love I need to be. How then do I love as Jesus instructed? It is in these instances that I give myself over to God’s love and ask that God use me as a conduit of the river that is his love. As Brother Moody, I pray for an understanding of God’s love and ask to be used as God’s instrument of healing love. I may have to do this person by person or event by event. God is faithful and will continue to shape me into an instrument suitable for the kingdom. What other response but loving can I have to the river of love that God continues to pour on me? “God, shape me into your instrument of healing love.”
Petrie, A. & J. (directors), (1986). Mother Teresa: narrated by Richard Attenborough. Petrie Productions.