By Greg Jones
I saw an article about an interesting group. Brothers Together is a group working to help poor Muslim children get the special surgeries they need in Israeli hospitals, the best in the Middle East by far. Brothers Together has sent more than 80 Muslim children from Arab countries all over the Middle East to Israel for life-saving surgeries in the past few years.
Their motivation? A spokesman says: “Our work is motivated by faith and obedience to Jesus… We believe that the love of God is freely offered unconditionally to all people.” He says a Muslim child dying from a heart condition should have the same access to medical care as Jewish or Christian kids.
Sounds so good. But there’s a glitch. In the news lately there’s been a focus on some 14 Muslim children who were on their way to Israel thanks to Brothers Together – who were ultimately not permitted to go — by their own parents and nations. One mother of a six-year old Iraqi boy with a hole in his heart that needs repair said she couldn’t let him enter Israel to receive the healing he was offered — because she just hates Israel too much. She says she has an innate, inbred hatred of Israel — she cannot let her enemy heal her son.
But, before we judge this mother, hear me – this is not an Arab, Muslim or Middle Eastern story. No this is an all too human story. This is a story of the World, that Jesus came into for its own sake. We live in a world, we are the people of a world, where the mother of a son with a hole in his heart holds him back from care, freely given, because of the spiritual hole in hers – nursed there by a world which wants to keep hearts broken.
For we all have these spiritual holes in our hearts that keep us from trusting, forgiving, mercy and courage.
Before we judge her – the Lord would show us that we are all holding back from entering the Holy Land of healing in Christ. We are all holding back out of self-guided, inbred drives – which we think are self-protecting.
For some reason, the promise of free care, free healing, the free repair of our broken hearts is not something we leap at in this world. For some reason, the gracious love of God is not MAKING us be different. For some reason, the Love of Christ as poured out in a manger, at a table, and above all on a cross, is not FORCING us to be better.
The reason is simple. The free love of God which does not protect itself and holds nothing back is free, gentle and pure – and it’s our choice to accept it or not.* God won’t make us let him fix the hole in our hearts. God won’t make us love each other. God won’t make us love in a way that does not protect ourselves and holds nothing back.
He can’t make us follow the teachings of Jesus, or the Law of Moses, with intentions of love and obedience. But that is all he wants. God loves us this way – and all he wants is for us to know him, to share in his life, so that God may not be forcedly but graciously one in all. He wants this, but he won’t make it be. He sends his love – as Christ has shown – in a manger, at a table, on a cross – and if we choose to join him we can. If we choose to return his gracious love, sending it back and forth, and without fear of what it might cost us, without holding back – then God rejoices.
Is this what you want? Do you want to know God, and to have him know you and not just see you there doing your thing? I do. And I know that I can’t – by myself. I know that I can’t generate the grace that God gives on my own. I know that the only way to heal the hole where grace slips away is to say, “God, I choose you, your ways, your life – help me to choose and receive your gifts.”
The Gospel and Miracle is that when we do this — we are changed. Little by little, when we allow the free love of God unconditionally given to help us heal our broken hearts – it works.
*Thanks to Rowan Williams for this phrase, “a love which does not protect itself…and holds nothing back.”
The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones (“Greg”) became a member of Christ’s Body at St. Columba’s in Washington, D.C., and he was educated at the University of North Carolina and the General Theological Seminary, where he is on the Board. He blogs at fatherjones.com.