John, who needed love the most

gospel of john

So I was talking to a friend today, a seminarian who I have no doubt will be a force for good in the world based on his love for Christ, his compassion toward people, and his understanding of the Scriptures.  It is this latter that we touched on today in conversation.  He has learned to read the Gospels in the original Hebrew and Greek, which absolutely staggers me.  He said some of the translations of Scripture  into other languages have not adequately conveyed what the author was trying to get at in the text.

For example, John, “the other disciple, the one Jesus loved” (John 20 v2).

“I originally took that as a very arrogant phrase,” my friend said, “Like, ‘Look at me, the favorite disciple.’  And then I read the Greek.  The actually Greek translation was less a statement of favoritism than one of need.  It’s more accurate to read it “the one who Jesus had to keep on loving because he needed to be close.”

Which means what?  I asked.

“John was probably the most broken.  He needed to lean on Jesus the most.  And Jesus knew that, and so did John.”

Whoa.

Oh, John, let me tell you: you have a brother in this warped yellow lego.  I’m right there with you.

Another friend once told me, “I envy your religious life, man [whatever that means].  I just don’t have that much faith.  Don’t know how you do it.”

How I do it?

I don’t know how it’s done.  I just know the reach.  I know the outstretched arm.  I know the lump-in-the-throat, I’m-ready-to-lose-it, help-me-please straining.

And I’ve felt another hand close around mine and pull me forward, out of impossible despair, anxiety, and stress.

Every morning.  Every hour.  Every moment.

He sends reminders to me.  Around every corner, in the light of every person’s eyes.

In His Word.  In the teachings of his followers.

In the cross I wear around my neck.

In my very need to reach.

Because I have a tendency to forget.

Every morning.  Every hour.  Every moment.

My face is cupped in His wonderful, assuring hands.  He looks on me with the deepest love.  He pulls me close.

He knows He needs to.

And so do I.

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True love offered, even in brokenness

[Note:  apologies to those who have already seen this post, or at least a version of it.  My Kindle WordPress app was publishing this every time I edited it, which was many times over the past 12 hours.  So I am posting a cleaned up version for your enjoyment.  As with all my posts, I hope it touches your heart, mind, and Spirit.]

This is going to be a difficult post to write.  I’m just “in the middle of it” right now.

In the midst of my own brokenness and frustration, temptation, and struggle.

So I need reminding of who Jesus who really is.  What He does.  How He accepts.

Let it be known that English teachers sometimes teach what they need most to learn.  I’ve taught this movie over the past 5 out of 7 years.  There is so much going on in it that speaks to me.

The themes we bring to our students to analyze through the literature we teach, say “love” or “trust” or “loyalty” or “the hero’s journey” – before we dilute the work down to literary period, genre, and use of syntax- often have hit us at our core in some way, have revealed to us a truth about the world or ourselves that moved the deepest part of our being. And through repeated viewing or study, by ourselves or with a class, under the academic hubbub and rhetoric, we get chance to be reminded.

Because I recognize myself as both Parry and Lydia in the movie The Fisher King.

Quick disclaimer: the movie is at times graphic, for both language and violence, so I only show this with my oldest students (seniors). It’s not Fight Club hyper violence by any means, but it can be gritty. Robin Williams plays Parry, a homeless man who thinks he is a knight out to find the Holy Grail in early ’90s New York City. His “princess” from a distance is Lydia, a bit of a nobody and a lost soul. They are set up on a first date, and somehow, they click. Here is the scene as Parry walks her home. Watch and then read on. And don’t mind the part about Florida…

Did you see what Lydia did at first?  She set up this whole narrative where she would be ultimately reduced to “a piece of dirt.”  Imagining that this connection with Parry couldn’t possibly be real, that this was too-good-to-be-true, she concocts a contrarian story in which Parry uses her for sex, and leaves the next morning with nary a word.  A classic one night stand scenario.

Why does she do this?

She doesn’t trust.

She doesn’t believe.

She is worrying about the unknown.  She has never been here before, where a man has truly cared for her.

Or maybe she has been here before, and the one night stand scenario is how it worked out.  A few hours at work, and eventually she felt like dirt.

Used.

Tossed aside.

Left broken.

And hurt.

If you’ve never seen the movie (and I won’t ruin it for you), it’s okay to know that Parry is actually quite a broken human being as well.  His homelessness comes from tragedy.  Nevertheless, he doesn’t shy away from others or set up walls.  He has observed Lydia- this pale little nobody in the great labyrinth of New York City, has declared her his princess, and is intent on acting that way.  As her knight.

Lydia runs.  Parry chases.  He needs to set the story straight.

His confession is that he loves, and though he is quite attracted to her physically, it’s not really about that.  For Parry it’s about the first kiss goodnight.  And telling her that he loves her.

And out of his mouth comes, I think, one of the best and truest declarations of love I’ve heard.

I ask my students:  what did he say about her hair and eyes?  What about her stunning figure?  Her skin, her legs?

And the answer, of course:  nothing.

This is no trite Top 40 love song.  It’s not Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18.”  It doesn’t stay on the surface.

In fact, he doesn’t really “compliment” her at all.  Instead,

He mentions her awkwardness.

That she hates her job.

That she doesn’t have many friends.

That she doesn’t feel as wonderful or coordinated as everyone else.

That she feels separate and lonely.

He recognizes all of her brokenness.

But…

I love you.

I love you, he says.

You’re the greatest thing since spice racks, he says.

I’d be knocked out several times if I could just get that one kiss.

I’ll call.  I’ll come back, if you let me.

Lydia’s eyes are tearing up through this whole speech as she listens.  Her walls about breaking down, she is seeing new possibilities.  And in the miracle of miracles she actually has to admit that

He is Real.

Love has come to her in spite of (because of?) her brokenness.

And she dares to believe.

What a lesson in love.

Brennan Manning once said, in true ragamuffin style, that “God loves you as you are, not as you should be, because you’re never going to be as you should be.”

In his own unique human way, Parry made known to Lydia, without specifically saying it, about the love of Christ.

And how many times a day do I need that reminder?  How many times have I felt broken, used, lonely, awkward, unlovable?  How many times have I set up walls, concocted a different story which would allow me to hide in solitude?

Roman 5:8 begins to make much more sense to me- “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Still sinners- in other words, broken.

As Psalms 103: 15-17 declare, “As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.  But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children.”

“Fear” in its proper context was closer to “being in awe” than being “scared.”  Do you remember the look of marveling that came over Lydia as she whispered “You’re real, aren’t you?”  Her inflection still had the remnants of a question, as if she still couldn’t quite grasp what this was, though she was taking the courageous steps toward it.

Like I said, I’m in the “middle of it.”

So I need to take a prayerful step right now toward my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who accepts me and knows me in my brokenness.

Awkwardness.

Loneliness.

Separation.

Frustration.

Temptation.

Struggle.

“I love you,” he says.

Amen.