Sunday, December 11, 2005

Konstantinos in Konstantinopolis

"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for yousince the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger, and you invited me in, I needed clothes, and you clothed me, I was sick, and you looked after me, I was in prison, and you came to visit me.' ... The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me' " (Matthew 25.34-36, 40).

Praise God! Dang it! Oddly, these were the back-to-back attitudes I had this afternoon. At church I met a very thin man of about eighty years of age named Konstantinos. We invited him out to lunch with us and talked with him over lentil soup and spicy lamb stew. He's among the third and final generation of his family living in Istanbul, and in 1980 he moved back to Greece to try to get his rightful share of his aunt's inheritance. But his uncle forged the legal documents and conned his way into taking his share of the inheritance. Since his return to Istanbul in 1996, Konstantinos has been without family. He has spent several years now living by himself in a sometimes-warm hotel often frequented by a rather seedy cast of vagabonds.

After lunch I walked him back to Taksim Square so that he wouldn't have to brave the dense crowds and repaving efforts by himself. Independence Street in Taksim is not a good place for slow-moving elderly men. I really felt a love for this man, and I wanted to spend more time with him and show him Jesus' love. Praise God for his work in me that made me really want to help him out and give him some companionship. But when he asked me if I wanted to go to McDonalds and get a cup of coffee with him, I gratefully declined. He energetically thanked me for walking with him and taking him to lunch, and he smiled (as much as a person can smile without front teeth) and told me I was such "a good boy."

But I actually declined his invitation because I had plans to go and spend some time reading by myself before meeting some German friends for a Weinachtsfest, a Christmas party. We made desserts, sang German hymns in four-part harmony (I sang tenor), and had fun. I felt sickly evil while I sent Konstantinos on his way, receiving his blessing while my duplicitous, selfish heart lay hidden underneath my wool winter coat. "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?" Here was a gentle, lonely old man living in crappy conditions. I had the opportunity to show him he's valued and worthy of God's love and mine, yet I chose my own pursuits instead. Dang it. Yet in God's abundant grace, I had a great afternoon and had a lot of fun at the party.

Coincidentally, my friend Ryan wrote about "compassion pharisaism" and how easily we simply look for limits to how good we need to be to gain another pat on the back from God or, perhaps more accurately, from ourselves. Funny, I actually thought to myself this afternoon as Konstantinos and I parted, I've done enough. Enough for what? The real call is to "be imitators of God ... and live a life of love" (Eph 5.1-2). "God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him" (1 John 4.16b-17). Live (or 'abide') in love; be immersed in it and never leave it, letting all our actions be conducted in a sphere of other-centeredness. Living in love would make serving others as spontaneous as exhaling. And through Christ's presence in us--blessed be God--this does work itself into our lives as we are drawn to the cross. The source of and pattern for all love is God-in-Jesus upon the cross. Paul finishes his thought by saying to "live a life of love, just as Jesus loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." And John does likewise: "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as the one who would turn aside his wrath, taking away our sins. ... We love because God first loved us" (1 John 4.10, 20; cf. 3:16).

Dear Jesus, our only hope both now and forevermore, help us to know you and the depths of your love for us, that we may live in it as you are formed in us (Gal 1.15; 4.19). Amen.

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