Tough Love

Once again Jesus began teaching by the lakeshore. A very large crowd soon gathered around him, so he got into a boat. Then he sat in the boat while all the people remained on the shore. He taught them by telling many stories in the form of parables, such as this one:

“Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seed. As he scattered it across his field, some of the seed fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate it. Other seed fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seed sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. But the plant soon wilted under the hot sun, and since it didn’t have deep roots, it died. Other seed fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants so they produced no grain. Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they sprouted, grew, and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” Then he said, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”

10 Later, when Jesus was alone with the twelve disciples and with the others who were gathered around, they asked him what the parables meant.

11 He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secret of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables for everything I say to outsiders, 12 so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled:

‘When they see what I do,
    they will learn nothing.
When they hear what I say,
    they will not understand.
Otherwise, they will turn to me
    and be forgiven.’” – Mark 4:1-12

# 112 Long Since Used | Galveston Railroad Museum | August 2020

There was a moment of confrontation between father and son that went something like this: “Don’t take me on. You will not win. You will lose. Don’t take me on.” I was ready to go to the mat to win that confrontation, and there for a moment it all hang in the balance. He didn’t take me on. Thankfully. 

Sometime later one of his brothers sat with us in the dining room. We were having another father/mother/son conversation. He was being belligerent. His brother was leaving with friends, and miracle of miracles! as he left he turned and said, “Listen to that man.” Pointing to his brother and then to me, he made it clear that I had good things to say.

The tough love seems an oxymoron. How can love be tough? It’s the kind of love that causes parents to ground their teenagers. The kind of love that disciplines rather than coddling the wayward child. Tough: Yes. But also love.

Sometimes you have to be both tough and loving. I believe that’s what Jesus was doing with the Jewish leaders of his day. Tough: Go on hearing without hearing. Go on seeing but refuse to look. He’s quoting from the prophet Isaiah. And it was an indictment of their willfulness. They refused to listen to God or his prophet. They thought they knew better. They thought they knew all the answers.

They thought they had heard it all before. Wah, wah, wah, wah, wah, wah, wah…. Nothing new here. Let’s look for better answers. Let’s try to find better advice. Surely we don’t need to reconsider our lives. Surely we don’t need to adjust our attitudes. 

Or so they thought. Look more closely at the severe results of their failure to heed God’s voice. They would not experience God’s forgiveness or healing. They will be stuck in the muck of their own stubbornness.

Surely we’re not like that, right? We don’t think we know it all. We don’t think we’ve heard it all before. We don’t need to adjust our hearts, ears, minds, or attitudes, do we? 

There is a fine line between standing strong for the truth and being just plain stubborn. It’s a frightening thing to consider our position in that regard. But a careful reading of Scripture is key. But we don’t do that just to discover the proof texts for our theological or religious hobby horse.

We look to Scripture in order to be shaped by God’s word. We do that with a humble heart. We do that realizing that while we hold tightly to the truth of God’s word, we never stop growing in our understanding of it. We learn new ways in which it is to be applied. We seek God’s work in our hearts through those encounters.  And we’re less likely to stand in need of God’s tough love, for he loves repentant sinners and does not despise broken and contrite hearts. 

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