I have said that my dog Gracie is stubborn. But that’s not accurate. She’s determined.
Inside the house, she obeys every command. In fact, she responds to a large vocabulary. She knows what an atlatl is (we use it to throw her ball), she heads for the car when I mention taking a ride, and she jumps on the bed and looks for the remote when I say, “Let’s watch TV.”
When we’re outside, Gracie thinks for herself.
At some point I feel antsy to get back to work. We’ve played for what seems like more than enough time. I’ll say, “Gracie, let’s go in,” and open the door. She stops what she’s doing and looks at me. For a long time. She’s thinking.
It’s as if she’s saying, “I know exactly what you want me to do. But I’m afraid you’re a bit misguided. Just watch me and see if you don’t think I’m right.”
She lifts her head—eyes closed—to sniff the breeze for traces of raccoon and fox, mockingbird and sweet olive. Eventually she stretches out on the grass and lets the sun’s rays gently warm her black fur.
She is determined. She has seen a better way, and she loves me. So, she resists my idea of what would be best and invites me to join her. On my better days, I do just that.
Gracie has taught me an essential Gospel lesson. Sometimes, love expresses itself as determined resistance to ways of living on this planet that diminish my and my neighbor’s humanity.
Preaching in his hometown synagogue, Jesus said as much. Luke tells us that he stood, unrolled the Isaiah scroll, and read the following passage:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)
After rolling the scroll back up, he sat, assuming the common preaching posture of his day. We have only Luke’s one-line summary of that sermon:
Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. (Luke 4:21)
Jesus tells the crowd that that the Kingdom of God has arrived. In him. In Jesus God is establishing justice on earth as it is in heaven. He has come “to loose the bonds of injustice, … to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke.” (Isaiah 58:6)
And Jesus sees our captivity in very earthy terms. People don’t know where their next meal will come from. They scramble to find squalid, make-shift shelter. Their clothes are threadbare and offer scant protection from the elements.
He has come to feed the hungry, to shelter the homeless, and to clothe the naked. That is what liberation looks like. As Isaiah puts it:
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them? (Isaiah 58:7)
God never intended for people to go without food or shelter or proper clothing. In God’s kingdom there is neither deprivation nor scarcity. Terms like “food insecurity” and “the working poor” and “eviction notice” describe our world, not God’s idea of this world.
How we live in this world makes the poor and the homeless and the hungry. Our economy, our political structures, our social classes are propelled by what Richard Rohr calls the three P’s: possessions, power, and prestige.
The world teaches us to compete for resources, leverage, and status. When we compete in this way, we make winners and losers. We create a top and a bottom. An inside and an outside.
By contrast, Jesus teaches that the first will be last and the last will be first. Greatness is found in compassion for and service to our neighbor. When we love our neighbor as ourselves, we commit ourselves to creating a very different kind of world from the one we inhabit. A world without want and ignorance, without violence and oppression.
As Jesus finished his sermon that day—and as he died on the cross three years later—he recognized that God’s dream of justice on earth as it is in heaven was not yet a reality. And so do we today. The impulse to accumulate possessions, power, and prestige continues to assail the dignity of human beings. God’s justice is long in coming. We can understandably grow weary.
And that is why Jesus set the example that he did. Jesus, you see, did not wave a magic wand. He was determined in his resistance to everything that assaults human dignity. Sometimes, that’s what love looks like. Determined resistance.