Thursday, June 13, 2013

A Greater Love than The Great Gatsby

In Acts 2, the Spirit fills the disciples gathered in Jerusalem. Language barriers are broken as Jews from “every nation under heaven” (a bit of hyperbole) hear the good news in their native tongue. One obvious intention of this account is to show that the work of the Spirit is designed to reconcile, include, gather up and bring together diverse people to form egalitarian communities.

In explanation of what took place on the Day of Pentecost, Peter claims fulfillment of a passage in Joel that says the Spirit will be poured out upon “all flesh”— no distinctions, exceptions, or exclusions. It is poured out on the old and young, men and women, slaves and free people; everyone receives the gift of the Spirit. In the Spirit immersed community there is no hierarchy—no elevation or subjugation of any gender or group.

Paul depicts the first churches as egalitarian communities. In his letter to the Galatians he says that “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). Christ is the standing icon for humanity in its final and full destiny. In Christ we are one body, one people, where all differences or distinctions based on gender, race, social status, or anything else are totally irrelevant and meaningless. 

God’s love is an all encompassing love and it always moves us outward. In The Great Gatsby, Gatsby goes to great extremes to prove his love for Daisy. The narrator tells us that everything he did—the house, the parties, all of it—he did for Daisy. His love for Daisy was a great love, it was an enduring love, but it was a tainted love.

It was a love born out of fear and insecurity. He didn’t think she would truly love him unless he proved himself, unless he was rich, powerful, and successful. So his love was mixed with fear, greed, and the quest for position and prestige.

God loves us with an immense, enduring love, a love that gives all and never lets us go, and God’s love is pure, not tainted or twisted by ego. So it is not a possessive or exclusive love.

All human love has some measure of possessiveness and exclusion attached. In marriage, for example, we pledge loyalty and faithfulness to our spouse. We become bound by a covenant that excludes others. It is a necessary exclusion; necessary for a healthy, flourishing marriage. But this can turn dark and go awry.

There is a scene where Gatsby and Daisy confront Tom. Daisy is hesitant and fearful and unsure. Gatsby, fueled by his ego, presses Daisy to say to Tom that she never loved him, that she only loved Gatsby, that even when she married Tom she never loved him, which she could not do, for she did love Tom.

It’s interesting to note how Jesus portrays the next level of spiritual consciousness described as resurrection. The Sadducees attempt to trap Jesus by describing a scenario where a woman marries seven brothers in succession. The question is asked: Whose wife will she be in the resurrection? Jesus says that those who live “in the resurrection . . . neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Luke 20:35). Jesus is saying that in that advanced state of reality there will be no possessive, exclusionary relationships. Our experience will be more inclusive and unitive. We will be more deeply related and connected to everything.

In this life we have to have some boundaries. But the Spirit of God is always compelling us to be more embracing, more encompassing, more inclusive and less possessive in whatever ways we can.

God’s love is an infinitely expansive and deep love. Anytime we think that God loves our group more than others we have seriously misunderstood and misinterpreted our experience of God’s love. Maybe we haven’t really experienced it at all. For when God’s love fills us and flows through us it always moves us outward, breaking down walls and barriers, leading us to be more hospitable, accepting, welcoming, and affirming, more open, receptive, self-giving, and attentive to others, just the way the Spirit led Jesus.     


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