When I was a child, the question sounded like this: “How many vegetables do I have to eat?”
When I was a teenager, the question sounded like this: “How far is too far?”
And now, as an adult, the question is still asked in all different kinds of ways:
“How much am I expected go financially give?”
“What is a reasonable amount of time for me to stay?”
“How compassionate must I be in a given situation?”
Different sounding questions for different periods of life, but they all at the core reveal our fixation with the minimum. We ask, in a variety of situations, “What can I get away with?” We wanted to know the least amount of vegetables we had to eat in order to get dessert. Then we wanted to know what the specific physical limitations were on a dating relationship so we could go right up to the edge. And now we want to know, whether in the case of our time, our money, or our tears, what the minimum requirement is of us so that we can meet our quota and then get on with the business of living.
We are obsessed with the minimum. Jesus knows this. And He knows that our obsession with the minimum reveals many things, but at least this:
We are deeply and inescapably devoted primarily to ourselves.
That’s why we love the minimum – it’s because we want to know the least amount of inconvenience necessary to impose upon ourselves. Because we are so devoted to ourselves, we want little to do with anything that truly costs us any amount of financial, emotional, or physical energy. We are not, by our nature, givers… we are takers. It is into this self-obsessed nature that Jesus tosses the grenade of sacrifice, calling on us to do that which it is impossible for us to do:
“It’s not enough to not just commit the physical act of adultery… do not even think impurely.”
“It’s not enough to not kill someone… do not even think angrily about another.”
“It’s not enough to just show up at worship… go back and make sure you have made your relationships right first.”
“It’s not enough to just give freely… go beyond what is requested of you and give even more.”
If we are reading the words of Jesus, it is impossible for us to live in the minimum. And His words are crushing to our souls. Who can do this? Who can live with this law? Who can actually do that which Jesus tells us to do? And that’s precisely the point: No one can. It’s at this point that our obsession with the minimum comes face to face with the cross.
The cross where Jesus gave it all.
Where He held nothing back.
When He was fully committed and devoted to the will of God to save us – the self-focused.
And something amazing happens there. Not only are we forgiven from our obsession with the minimum. Not only are all our attempts to guard ourselves from cost given reprieve. Not only are we washed from the stain of our distorted self-love. We are made new. Jesus knows that you can’t talk your way into giving up your obsession with the minimum. We must be transformed into something different. And so we are.
The giving love of Jesus makes us into the giving people of Jesus. He doesn’t so much change the standard required as He changes the people living under the standard. Thank God He does.