slow to anger and abounding in love…
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
“Jesus plus nothing equals everything,” someone once told me. Yet even as I nodded in agreement the statement seemed to be a gross oversimplification, reducing Jesus to a possession or a means to an end. It begged explanation to some serious questions — what is the starting point? Does a person jettison everything in order to “possess” only Jesus and hence gain everything? What is everything? Does a person add Jesus to their existing life and accumulation of things and thus achieve the pinnacle of possessing all things? Or does it mean that Jesus should be stripped of theological, church, and historical considerations and that Jesus alone is everything one needs to know or believe?
As I was pondering these questions I happened to read the story of Simon’s encounter with Jesus. He and his companions had spent all night fishing. I can only imagine how tired and frustrated they were as they were cleaning their equipment when Jesus came along and told them to get back in the boat for another try. Reluctantly, and probably rather sceptically, they put back out to sea, but they no sooner let down their nets than they were overwhelmed by a catch of fish such as had never been seen. The men with Simon couldn’t handle it all and so they called for back-up help to get their catch of a lifetime back to shore.
Remarkably, when all was said and done the story reached a dramatic and surprising climax with Simon and his fellow fishers leaving everything on shore – boats, equipment, and likely even their incredible catch – to follow Jesus. In this amazing situation it wasn’t “Jesus plus nothing equaling everything, instead it was a case of “Jesus minus everything” being the starting point of a radical journey into a whole new way of living, a new livelihood as these fishermen left fishing to follow Jesus. Probably if I had been standing in their fishing boots, I would not have abandoned the boat and nets but instead I would have begged Jesus to join my fishing company – guaranteed success! Jesus plus me and my fishing business beats out the competition and equals everything!
Jesus plus nothing – just Jesus – what does this really mean? Lent, the season of preparation for passion, death and resurrection of Jesus begins this week and as I ponder the incredible story of Simon Peter and his fisher buddies leaving everything on the beach in order to follow Jesus, I can’t even begin to imagine what that must have been like. Not only was it a change of livelihood but it began their journey into a completely new way of thinking and living that ultimately culminated with the crowds who once hung on Jesus’ every word about the triumph of love over judgement, accusing him and judging him to have him shamefully hung on a cross. And so I am thinking not only about what it meant for the fishermen but what it means for me to follow only Jesus; Jesus the Just One; Jesus the one who taught that justice is not judgment but reconciliation and redemption; Jesus who rose above false accusations and the miscarriage of justice in the triumph of God’s grace and love and mercy.
It seems to me that for Simon Peter the fisherman and for us, Jesus plus nothing means everything – and that “everything” compels me ever more deeply into a journey of embracing an unjust, unmerciful, and ungrateful world with the undying love of the Father. My Lenten reflection this year will be a contemplation of Jesus, Jesus the Just One facing betrayal, accusations, abandonment, torture, misjudgement, condemnation, execution, and burial. A friend told me that to follow Jesus is learning to become more and more like him – thinking like him, speaking like him, and acting like him because of him. I am wondering what that means in terms of the injustice we suffer and the justice we yearn for?
Here’s another saying that deserves a second look:
‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’
Is that going to get us anywhere?…
I’m telling you to love your enemies.
Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst.
When someone gives you a hard time
respond with the energies of prayer…
This is what God does.
He gives his best…to everyone regardless:
the good the bad, the nice the nasty…
Live out your God created identity.
Live generously and graciously toward others,
the way God lives towards you.
– excerpted from Matthew 5:38-48 The Message
Ron W. Nikkel is the president and CEO of Prison Fellowship International (PFI). For more information, visit the PFI website.