In his book, Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson (lawyer and social justice activist) recalls a memory from his childhood when he was “about ten years old.” Stevenson relates a particular day when his mother took him to a church service. Afterward, as he stood outside of the church building talking with his friends, one of them introduced him to a visiting relative of theirs. Bryan described the child as a “shy, skinny boy about my height who was clinging to his cousin nervously.” As they all stood there chatting, he asked the boy where he was from. Trying to respond to the question, he stumbled horribly… “He couldn’t even say the name of the town where he lived,” Stevenson noted.
Under the impression that the child was joking, Bryan proceeded to laugh at him. It was at this moment that Bryan saw his mother standing off to the side with an “expression of horror, anger, and shame” he said, “all focused on me.” His mother then called him over to where she was standing. By this point, he knew what was coming. Mrs. Stevenson reprimanded him saying, “Don’t you ever laugh at someone because they can’t get their words out right… You should know better, Bryan.” She then demanded that he go back to the boy, tell him he was sorry, give him a hug, and tell him that he loved him. Not really left with a choice, Bryan shamefully walked back over to his group of friends and told the child that he was sorry. Then, awkwardly, he leaned in to give him a hug and said, “Uh… also… I love you!”
It was at this moment that something profound happened. An in-breaking of heaven. The boy, “without a stutter and without hesitation” whispered back to Bryan, “I love you too.”
This is a pure picture of God’s kingdom coming to earth by His Spirit and through His love. It illustrates how love is the pathway to wholeness, and that we are called to reflect this love towards the brokenness that is before us regardless of how foreign it may be (or sound) to us.
When we love others despite our differences and their deficiencies we are showing the world that it is okay to not be afraid.
1 John 4:18 tells us, “There is no fear in love but perfect love casts out fear.”
Whether it be to a stuttering child, a mother without a husband to help raise her kids, or to an unfriendly neighbor, we are to bear witness to the truth of God’s love in a broken world. To be sure, all of us are the boy with the stutter. That is, each of us is broken in some way and needs to be loved unto wholeness.
It almost goes without saying this, but loving others in their brokenness bears the likelihood that we won’t be loved in return. That’s okay, though, because it’s the unlikelihood of being loved back that actually characterizes what gospel love is all about. Here’s the point that I’ve been writing to get to.
Jesus said, “For if ye love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.” (Lk. 6:32)
In a basic sense, what Jesus is saying is that,
Loving without exception is what makes our love exceptional.
To put it in negative terms: love doesn’t stand out when it is built on reciprocity or some form of exchange… Of “I’ll do this for you if you do that for me.” Rather, love stands out (or is exceptional) when it is given unconditionally and selflessly.
This is the love to which we are called as followers of Jesus.
Just 3 chapters later in Luke’s gospel a ‘dispute’ arises between the disciples as to who would be the greatest in God’s coming kingdom and “… Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a little child and set him by Him, and said to them, ‘Whoever receives this little child in My name receives Me, and whosoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me.’” (Lk. 9:47-48)
Why did Jesus use a child as an example of where our attention & affection should go?
Because no one feels the need to listen to what a child has to say. A child is quite easily overlooked and ignored. A child cannot offer what we often seek as we age (i.e. material wealth, social status, influence).
In other words, loving a child almost guarantees that we are loving without exception — emptied of selfish motives & hidden agendas. This is why Jesus says ‘Whoever receives this little child in My name receives Me’, because He wants for our love to be marked by selflessness… To be exceptional insofar that it is offered without exception.
“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (Jn. 13:35)
- Stevenson, Bryan. Just Mercy: a Story of Justice and Redemption. New York: Spiegel & Grau,
Chase hails from the Hoosier state, where he earned his B.A. in Biblical Studies from Indiana Bible College. Currently, he serves in an assisting role at Family Life Church located in Bloomington, IN. Among his favorite hobbies are books and basketball. As much as he loves chicken shawarma, he loves Jesus more.