Love First

November 10th, 2013 Posted in writing

I grew up thinking I had to repent of my sins and wrongdoings in order for God to love and forgive me. To me it was logical to think that repentance came first and forgiveness after that. First A, then B.

But I’ve come to think that it’s truer to think it’s just the opposite — that the forgiveness comes first, and that is what makes repentance and a new start possible.

The story of Jesus and Zacchaeus in Luke’s gospel certainly points that way. Everyone in Jericho knew that Zacchaeus was a sinner who had gotten rich collecting taxes from his own people on behalf of the despised Romans. So, when Jesus declared that he would go to Zacchaeus’ house to eat with him and stay with him, everyone was shocked and scandalized. Zacchaeus had certainly done nothing to deserve such an honor. Furthermore, he hadn’t repented or said he would make up for all the bad things he had done. But Jesus was going to his house. Why?

Jesus must have realized that only if he expressed love and friendship for Zacchaeus first, while he was still a sinner, would he have the courage to amend his life, repair the damage he had done, and become a better person. First B, then A. First comes the love, then the repentance. Just the opposite of what I’d learned so many years ago.

Now I think we are more likely to change for the better if we realize that God loves us even before we change. For if we believe that God loves and forgives us before we “deserve” it, then the purpose of life must not be to earn God’s love but to embrace the fact that we already have it and, thus, can be good not out of fear but gratitude.

We might even surprise ourselves and others at how much good there is in us, just as Zacchaeus must have been surprised at the love and generosity that came pouring out of him — all locked up until Jesus called it forth through his love for this tax collector who hadn’t first said he was sorry.

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