The thing that scares people about love, especially the agape kind, is that it makes you vulnerable, it makes demands. For the Son, it led to the incarnation and the cross and one of his most difficult commands was for us to take up our crosses and follow along behind.
It is rare to see someone give up everything. When it happens it stands out. Jesus stood out. Francis of Assisi stood out. He gave up everything but remained close at hand to continue giving. While I respect ascetics, I would never place them in the same league as Francis and those like him. They are not being in the world, while remaining not of it. They have opted out. That said, I am not implying that God may not have a purpose for them, only that their road is in many ways an easier path.
Francis, however, took up his cross (as God called him) and followed Jesus. He, like Paul, gave up everything for Christ. If you have a chance, get the DVD Brother Son, Sister Moon. It is Franco Zeffirelli’s wonderful take on the life of the most beloved saint of the Western world, the saint who talked to the animals, who once told a bird who was interrupting his preaching that he, Francis, would be quiet until the bird had finished what he had to say.
Many of Francis’ words illustrate agape:
- For it is in giving that we receive.
- “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.
- Above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives to his beloved is that of overcoming self.
- “God came to my house and asked for charity. And I fell on my knees and cried, `Beloved, what may I give?’ `Just love,’ He said. `Just love.”‘
- Until now, I have called Pietro Bernardone my father. But because I have proposed to serve God, I return to my father the money, and also all the clothing which is his. And I want only to say from now on, Our Father, Who art in heaven, and not, My father, Pietro Bernardone.
- Where there is discord may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. Where there is despair, may we bring hope.
Early on, many thought Francis crazy. But as time wore on, many wanted to live like him. True to his words, his daily walk was his loudest preaching. When you absolutely take hold of God and his agape takes hold of you, many will think you are mad. It has ever been so. When you have sold out everything for God you become a fanatic to the world, who prefers its religion in measured doses, only moderating its vices, not dispensing with them.
It may be true that those who grasp tightly to God walk a dangerous road, balanced on the edge of apparent madness. At least the world sees it so. It is only agape that fortifies that perilous journey; it is only sacrifice that prevents the tipping point of prideful self-delusion, for only he who seeks nothing for himself can walk that close to God and remain whole. Hebrews warns us:
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Hebrews 10:31
But is it not in those hands that we seek to be? Fearful or not, would we not grasp a hold of God with all our might, even though his holiness would burn us to the core? Are you not, O Lord, a consuming fire, burning away all of the wood, hay, and stubble of our lives, everything that we would hold onto. We quickly learn that he who sacrifices all, has nothing left to lose.
Janis Joplin once had a tremendous insight, which she put in her song, Me & Bobby Mc Gee: “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.” She was right. When you have joined God and agape is now a fundamental aspect of your being, you are totally free, you have nothing left to lose. You may possess things, but they will never possess you. Like Paul, you count everything as #%@!*& (Philippians 3:8) when compared to knowing God.
In closing, I would put a slight slant on Paul’s famous statement, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives within me” and say “It is no longer I who live, but agape that has taken a hold of me.”
May God in his gracious mercy, prepare you in all diligence for the road a head, for at some point you, like all of us, will reach the nexus point of agape. The only question is how tightly you will hold on to it. May grace and peace find you and preserve you at that and every moment of your life.
So…is agape giving anytime we are asked? I fall so many times into the trap of giving only to find that the gift was illspent. Is agape giving without question? Is agape withholding the gift when you feel uncertain as to how it will be used?
My ministry is within a culture of schemers and scammers. I would dearly love a clear cut understanding of giving within the bounds of agape.