Comfort, Judgment, Love
Do you ever wonder what it would feel like to be Jesus, especially on Palm Sunday, everyone wanting to see, hear, and touch you? Imagine hordes of the suffering so desperate for connection that they literally crawl into your path, hoping to just touch your robe. What a horrible responsibility that would be. I wonder how long I could stay “graceful” amid the cacophony of voices and clutching hands. My guess: not long. Such thoughts always bring to mind the quote from Henry IV – “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” The other day, leaving Sunday School, it occurred to me that someone at CTK might have an inkling of how it feels. Here’s a hint: he serves at both services nearly every Sunday; he is still vibrant in his ministry; and the physical trait he is best know for is his spectacular hair (and I hear it’s as soft as it is beautiful).
By now I’m sure you’ve guessed that I refer to Job Comfort Dog. On a recent Sunday, it was cold and wet, the breezeway was a wind tunnel, people shivered as they hustled past me. Laura Greinke had Job on a leash at the end of the sidewalk. A good 80% of the people who had just blown past me (much too cold to exchange pleasantries) stood in line to love on Job. To paraphrase the old page 15 Liturgy, “It is truly mete, right, and salutary that they did” because that is Job’s ministry. By showing inhuman grace and patience, calmly and quietly allowing the masses to take what they need from him, Job encourages even the most stoic heart to open up to him. I don’t know if dogs feel love, but the scores of broken, scared, and grieving souls Job has quieted give testament to the love that people can get from a dog. If he jumped around, barked “hello,” or pulled at his leash, he would be just another dog, and the people that stopped to praise him or rub his belly would do so with the certainty that they were benefiting him. Job’s demeanor convinces people that he shares, or at least understands, their pain and is willing to suffer with them. They get something from him.
Is it love?
That’s a stretch for me, because I can’t imagine anything in this sinful world being able to love every person it comes across. But love is at least part of what people feel they get from him. I remember hearing about a little girl in the St. Louis area who suffered a tragedy (I think her town had been wiped out by a tornado), and a Comfort Dog came to the town’s aid. A year later, that same girl experienced something worse, the sudden death of her parents. What she wanted, more than anything, was to sit and hold the Comfort Dog that she had met the year before…so, yes, there must be love, but does that love come from Job, or is he a vessel onto which people can comfortably project the love that they are afraid to expect from their community? Job won’t laugh at their faltering attempts to explain themselves, or judge them for shedding the tears that pain, loss, or loneliness squeeze out of them. He seems to understand that, if he is a vessel, those in pain are somehow the opposite — they’re a cavity, a gaping wound, an exposed nerve or need — demanding hope and succor to provide the perspective required to return to the whole person they were before life laid them low.
Do you imagine that is the type of love people sought when they petitioned and clawed at Jesus? I think it must have been, because they didn’t understand that His love offered so much more. Job’s spiritual gift is empathy, a vital component of both emotional health and healthy relationships, but empathy is the starting point for the Christian, just as it was for Christ. That’s why Mrs. Greinke was at the other end of the leash!
Love without judgment — it sounds like heaven, doesn’t it? But imagine how a bride would feel on her wedding night if she thought her new spouse didn’t know “the real” her. Contrast that with the confidence of a groom who knows his wife has seen the worst of him…but loves him anyway. For love to be meaningful to a person, he or she must be judged-then chosen by someone or perhaps known and deemed unworthy-but chosen anyway. That is the state in which sinful man existed when Jesus strode into town. He brought compassion, understanding, peace, and love to thousands, even as He re-affirmed the reality of God’s judgement.
Which bring us to Lent. Now is the season to meditate on the truth that God was disgusted by the wretchedness that resides in mankind’s collective soul and loved us anyway. But God’s love couldn’t save us from His judgment. All the love and empathy “True Man” Jesus showered upon the masses wold have been utterly useless if He hadn’t suffered the cross and death to save us! When the “bleeding woman” from the Gospel approached Jesus, the limit of her hope was physical health; Jesus used her suffering to give her a Spiritual hope she couldn’t have imagined. Our end of Job’s leash affords us the same opportunity to share good news, beyond comprehension, with the suffering today. Job brings them solace, his handlers bring them Word, and eventually Sacrament, through which the Holy Spirit works their eternal salvation.
Ash Wednesday begins our remembrance of the road to the cross. Properly understood, Lent shows us that our meager abilities are woefully inadequate even to lift up our brother, let alone save him (who among us has comforted as many people as Job?). But we’ve got to start somewhere, right? I suggest we begin by gathering together, Sundays and Wednesdays, for the next six weeks. Let’s endeavor to choose our words more carefully, study His Word more purposefully, and love each other more diligently, until our combined effort to reflect Christ’s love and grace is as fruitful as a dog’s.