Jesus expressed his great love for people in ten dramatic ways. The gospels show us his immense compassion for the suffering, his attentive listening presence, and his energetic celebration of the lives around him. Explore this gallery to see how Jesus demonstrated agape--the Greek word for unconditional, self-sacrificing love--and what we can learn from him.
Jesus was a master of caring confrontation. He practiced nonviolent resistance to evil, and it was his teaching and example that would inspire Gandhi and the great African-American Christian leaders of the civil rights movement. Jesus asked Peter to put down his sword; he said that those who live by the sword die by it. But he also confronted spiritual hypocrites and the many moneychangers who had set up shop in the Temple. He was constantly challenging people to think and act lovingly, and this meant that he had often to take the risk of confrontation when he saw destructive attitudes and behaviors around him.
Prayer: Lord, strengthen us in the courage to confront evil with wise love rather than malice.
Jesus didn't just help people. He inspired others to do so, and encouraged helping behaviors. Jesus devoted much of his time to making everyday people like James and Peter, ordinary fishermen, into paradigms of agape love. His life can best be understood as a light that has passed the power of agape love down through the ages, from generation to generation, through the church and beyond.
Prayer: Lord, prompt us to lend a helping hand to the needy, and be a generative example to others.
Jesus is depicted in the gospels as a healer who responded to the needs of the suffering even on the Sabbath and was roundly criticized for this by the authorities. He responded to those who would otherwise have been stoned to death. Compassion was perfectly captured in his parable of the Good Samaritan, a man who responded immediately and directly to a wounded man bleeding by the side of the road. Nothing could make him act in a way contrary to compassion--not a busy schedule or social stigma, as in the case of the Samaritan woman most others would not talk to. Jesus just did what compassion requires, whenever and wherever.
Prayer: Lord, deepen our compassion amidst suffering.
There are so many times in the New Testament when Jesus celebrates. He attended a wedding feast, he was regularly criticized for drinking a bit of wine with his disciples, and he fed the five thousand. Jesus said that he came that we might have life, "and have it more abundantly" (I John 10:10).
Prayer: Lord, let us see all lives as your gifts calling us to gratitude and celebration.
In interacting with others, Jesus was extraordinarily attentive, showing a humble willingness to respond in depth to what others had spoken. In his many healings, people cry out to him in need. Simply by listening and a touch, he offered them hope and wholeness. He listened carefully to his enemies and responded to them thoughtfully. He had immense patience with his disciples even when he had every reason to be impatient.
Prayer: Lord, humble us for attentive listening so that others feel valued.
There are innumerable moments when Jesus expressed humor. The British theologian C.K. Chesterton, in his classic work, Orthodoxy, concluded that mirth was "the hidden virtue of Jesus." C.S. Lewis wrote that "joy is the serious business of heaven." The Quaker theologian Elton Trueblood, a chaplain at both Harvard and Stanford Universities, wrote The Humor of Christ in 1964 to "challenge the conventionalized picture of a Christ who never laughed."
Prayer: Lord, inspire in us the warm humor and mirthful joy that frees all from anxiety.
The parables of Jesus are works of creative brilliance. The great stories of agape love are three: The Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, and the Widow's Mite. The first describes the power of compassionate response to echo down through the ages; the second captures the unconditional love of a father even after he has been insulted by his son in every way imaginable; the third shows how much it means when someone who has almost nothing gives a small contribution. Jesus loved people through improvising stories galore, for he was a literary genius. He was also creative in resolving ethical disputes, offering Solomonic resolutions. He had an unusually free creative mind.
Prayer: Lord, use our creativity for the best purposes.
Jesus had immense reverence for nature and spent much time in quiet natural settings or on the sea. He constantly showed reverence for the hearth, for the everyday life of the family. While no religious leader had yet bestowed equal status on children, Jesus welcomed them and made them prototypes for those who would enter the Kingdom of Heaven. He respected women in ways that were unheard of at the time. He respected the downtrodden, the blind, the lepers. His respect for life was universal.
Prayer: Lord, give us a deep reverence that frees us from the desire to manipulate others.
Jesus was loyal to Peter after Peter denied him. Even when rejected he was loyal, as in his lament over Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37). He was loyal to the will of God when, before his death, he prayed, "Lord, let this cup pass from my lips; nevertheless, not as I would but as you will." And there was never anyone, however maimed or ill or rejected, whom he did not affirm in loyalty long after everyone else had negated them.
Prayer: Lord, keep us loyal even to those who, like ourselves, aren't perfect.
Jesus of Nazareth brought forgiveness into the Western world. The great prayer of Christianity states: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." Jesus asked men ready to throw stones to forgive a woman who had committed adultery. He always taught forbearance and recommended that we avoid judging one another because we all have faults. As he died on the cross, his last words were, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
Prayer: Lord, enable us to forgive and make our apologies meaningful.
Adapted from Why Good Things Happen to Good People with permission of Broadway Books."Ten Ways Jesus Showed Love" by Stephen Post