Jesus did his best preaching when he told a story, a parable. Jesus simply told a story, usually taken from the ordinary, everyday experience of life to reveal something extraordinary about who our God is and how much our God loves us. So, at this time, I would like to attempt to do the same.
Once upon a time, a man and a woman who loved each other very much were married (by the way, this is a true story, based on a real couple I know). They shared a wonderful life together. They lived out their marriage covenant in a way that many couples do not duplicate. They were completely faithful to one another in every way. They were never abusive to one another, and neither one ever held any grudges or let selfish ambition come between them.
The couple had been married for nearly thirty-years, when the husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. After several unsuccessful brain surgeries to control the progression of his disease, he was left in a catatonic state and had to be admitted to a nursing home. Unable to lift his head, he was spoon-fed and cared for as if he were an infant. On most days, there was no way to tell if he even knew he was in the world.
Yet, this loving, compassionate wife, who promised to be faithful in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, for better or for worse, till death shall part them, remained very faithful. A day never went by when she did not visit the nursing home to make sure his needs were being met, letting him know in the best way she can that she will always remain by his side. And oftentimes, she made his favorite dishes at home: strawberry shortcake, always using pound cake as he liked it, and sometimes a pecan pie. She would then wrap the dessert up and bring it to the nursing home, where she would place one hand under his chin, lift his head and feed him the cake or pie with the other hand.
I have often thought how wonderful it would be to know that if one day my health fails me, and I wind up in a similar situation, someone will be there for me, to not only check on me daily, to make sure I am treated well, my needs are being met, to stay by my side, but also to prepare my favorite dishes, which just so happens to be strawberry shortcake and pecan pie, hold my chin, lift my head, and feed me.
This is who I believe our God is. God is a loving spouse who is living out a covenant with us, not only promising to be faithful, to stay by our side, but there at our side, in our weakest moments, takes a hold of our chin, lifts our heads and feeds us pie, a peace beyond understanding.
But you know something. There is something amiss in this parable. There is something wrong, something missing. For when we really think about it, as wonderful as this parable is, we realize that it simply fails to do the greatest story ever told appropriate justice. Especially when we consider that unlike the husband in this parable, we have not always been faithful to our God; when we consider our constant betrayals and our continuous denials. When we consider that when God offered us the very best gift God had to offer, the gift of God’s self, we reciprocated that gift with the very worst we had to offer, the cross. But remaining faithful, empowered by pure, unconditional love, God summoned the will to resurrect this gift and give him right back to the undeserving ones who killed him, making eternal life possible for all.
Perhaps a more appropriate parable would go something like this:
Once upon a time, a man and a woman who loved each other very much were married. However, they did not share such a wonderful life together. From the very beginning, the husband had a problem with alcohol, which grew as time went on. Although the woman remained true to her marriage covenant, he did not. He had numerous affairs. He usually blamed the alcohol, but on occasions he would tell his wife that his running around was her fault. He simply did not find her as attractive as he once did.
Family and friends, even her pastor, rightfully tried to persuade the woman to leave the loser. But they did so in vain. She said repeatedly that she promised to remain faithful in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, for better or for worse, till death shall part them, and she intended to do just that. And this husband was not always bad. She said, “At times, when he is sober, he could be a perfect gentleman, always apologizing for his actions. He can even be attentive to my needs.”
But as time went on, those good times became fewer and further apart. The abuse, which had in the past always been verbal and mental, turned into physical abuse. It got to a point when the woman could hardly remember a day when he was sober and when he did not strike her.
One day, in a drunken rage, he was yelling and screaming for his supper. As the wife, who had been nursing a broken jaw from a previous fight, was preparing it as fast as she could, he hurled abusive insults at her and struck her again on the side of her face that was still swollen.
She said, “Stop it. Please stop it. Look at yourself. You are not the man that I married. Look what you have let alcohol do to you. You don’t know what you are doing. Please, please get some help. Please. Don’t you know that I still love you?”
Interpreting her desperate pleas as being combative and disrespectful, he threatened to kill her if she did not shut up.
She continued, “Please, please, I love you, I really do love you.”
He stormed out of the kitchen, slamming the door. She went into the den, dropped face first into a pillow on the sofa and began to cry. Weeping would be more accurate. He came into a den with a pistol, jumped on top of her and placed it against her head. She cried: “Please no. I love you, I love you.”
“I swear to God if you don’t shut up and fix my supper I will blow your head off.” Somehow she managed to turn around and place both of her hands on the pistol. As they struggled, the gun went off. The husband fell to the floor, bleeding from the head.
But the sorry sod was too mean to die. However, he had to be placed in a nursing home, for he was left in a catatonic state, unable to lift even his head. He had to been spoon-fed and taken care of like an infant. On most days, there was no way to tell if he even knew he was in the world.
And yet, this wife, who promised to be faithful in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, till death should part them, remains faithful to this very day. A day does not go by when she does not visit the nursing home to make sure his needs are being met. Letting him know the best way she can that she will always remain by his side. And oftentimes she makes his favorite dishes at home: chocolate cake and coconut pie. She wraps it up and bring it to the nursing home, where she will hold his chin with one hand, lift his head and feed him with the other.
Of course, unlike the first parable this one is not based on any man or woman I know. For no one could possibly have so much compassion, be so forgiving, so loving, so patient, so merciful, yet so offensive. No one loves with such socially unacceptable grace, no one except God, as revealed to us in the greatest love story ever told.
For when God offered us God’s very best, we nailed it to a tree. And then somehow, some miraculous way, through the power of the resurrection, born out of pure love, God fed us and continues to feed us pie.