Blessed Are Those Who Overreach for Love
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled (Matthew 5:6).
As an offensive lineman on our high school football team, I did not want to face the coach after committing a false start before the snap. But that error upset Coach Finley Read three times as much when we caught ourselves in mid-lunge and tip-toed back as if to say, “Excuse me. Please don’t throw the flag, Mr. Ref. I meant no harm.”
To Coach Read, failure to plow into the stationary behemoths before us belied effort below 100%. Shame and woe to the hapless lineman thus exposed.
Forty years later, I remember the coach’s point often. It plays in my mind like Jesus’ parables of the unjust judge (Luke 18:1-8) or dishonest steward (Luke 16:1-13). This parable of the timorous lineman suggests that we can find virtue at the heart of overreaching if we err with all we’ve got.
The 14th century English mystic, Julian of Norwich, saw sin that way. To Dame Julian, we love God so much that we stumble and fall in our frenetic dash to please God. We lose control in our overreach for love until we do harm and forget our initial motivation. Ironically and beautifully, Dame Julian illumined the good in the foulest scoundrel and the right in our most egregious acts.
Led by civil rights hero, John Lewis, Democrats in the House of Representatives held a sit-in last week to press for a vote on background checks for gun purchases. They set a dangerous precedent. Maybe they overreached. But after six years of legislative constipation, their protective passion roused many of us from resignation.
How much polarization and acrimony in the public square springs from the overreach of love? After all, everyone claims to take their stand for love of the children, the neglected poor, the entitled rich, or another favored group.
If Coach Read, Dame Julian, and John Lewis have it right, perhaps everyone in the increasingly nasty fray hungers and thirsts for righteousness. Perhaps all of us are strangely blessed.
Perhaps. But if we refuse to listen and keep talking over God and each other, our reckless words and hateful acts come to resemble the lineman who lurches early and hopes nobody noticed. We do not give love our 100%.
Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness? Then do not hide behind privilege, protocol, or pride. Step up and take the time to listen to your enemy. Listen to the hopes and fears, the love behind the overreach that outrages you so. Listen to the Christ in them, suffering and dying for somebody’s sins if only their own.
Listen to the resonance in you, the sound of your enemy’s voice in your heart, the look of your enemy’s face in the mirror. There you see the image of God if you see with love. Who can comprehend the undying love of this God for the likes of us?
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