Each year, for decades, CHA’s principals have selected a theme for the school year. This year, however, we are changing it up by selecting two themes, one for each semester. Revolutionary, I know. The idea is that for the next three years, we would like to ensure that our students understand our six, newly-crafted Expected Student Outcomes, or ESOs. These six imperative phrases encapsulate what we pray will be the portrait of our graduates:

  • Seek and Speak the Truth
  • Explore God’s Diverse World
  • Think Creatively, Critically, and Collaboratively
  • Walk in God’s Ways
  • Excel in Your Gifts
  • Love Courageously

This year we will be exploring two of our ESOs, and this semester’s focus is for students to LOVE COURAGEOUSLY

In the first weeks of the school year I had the privilege of sharing about this several times with students at chapel and at our Retreats. My hope is that those words, along with both (undoubtedly!) the help of the Holy Spirit and the words of others throughout this semester, will sink into the hearts of our students this fall.

Our theme verse is a good one from John 13: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

What’s “new” about Jesus’ commandment here isn’t that we are to love one another. That’s a very old command (Leviticus 19). What’s new is that Jesus commands his disciples to love others as He has loved them. The incredible thing about Jesus is that he demonstrates the actual, tangible way that God’s love works in the midst of the raw, mundane, horrendous, delightful, bizarre moments of human life. The greatness of God’s love does not excuse us from application to our own lives; instead, God’s love is so great that it applies to everything we might experience. And that’s what we see in the person of Jesus. 

The incredible thing about Jesus is that he demonstrates the actual, tangible way that God’s love works in the midst of the raw, mundane, horrendous, delightful, bizarre moments of human life.

So my quest for a chapel talk to Middle Schoolers on Jesus’ courageous love began by looking for a bizarre moment in Jesus’ life in which God’s courageous love was abundantly evident. Because what is Middle School other than a three-year sequence of bizarre moments? (Middle School parents, read that tongue-and-cheek, but only sort of!)

Where I landed was the moment many of us sang about throughout our childhood: the moment Jesus happened upon a very short, clearly wealthy man, shouting down at Him while precariously clinging to the branches of a sycamore tree. 

If you’d like, take a second to read about Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10. It’s quite a story. 

Using Jesus as our model, what does Courageous Love look like in this passage? 

I’ll list three big themes below, but before I do, let me emphasize that what each of them have in common is that in all three, Jesus refuses to put himself first. In fact, that’s the whole crux of courageous love. Truly, the biggest barrier to courageous love is ourselves. We live in a culture completely intoxicated with self. We love our individual rights—and we often neglect the needs of others. We tell kids to ‘just believe’ so that they can ‘do anything they want’—something completely antithetical to ‘deny yourself and take up your cross.’ We love to ‘follow our heart,’ in our decision-making—when God’s command is to ‘delight in the law of the Lord.’ If our biggest priority is ourselves, then courageous love is impossible. 

How does this play out in Jesus’ interactions with Zacchaeus?

First, Jesus notices. This is a bizarre circumstance. Jesus is surrounded by a huge mob of people surging through the streets of Jericho. Questions. Shoving. Shouts. And then there is a crazy man up in a tree. My natural response would undoubtedly be to laugh, shake my head, and move on. Too many things. But Jesus doesn’t. Instead, he stops, notices, and calls out to this strange man by name. 

This past weekend, Kim, Clara, and I were blitzing to a soccer game north of Libertyville. I was fiddling with Spotify, and suddenly Kim shouted, “Woah woah woah woah! STOP!” I turned my hazards on and pulled to the side of a busy Milwaukee Avenue. Kim jumped out and ran, full speed, down the sidewalk to a woman who was lying collapsed on the sidewalk with her bags. In the hustle and bustle and inconvenience, Kim noticed. She went against the flow. That is courageous love. 

(By the way, the woman needed help, but she was okay!)

Second, Jesus responded, despite the outcome. Historical side note: tax collectors were hated by pretty much everyone in Jesus’ day. There is really no modern parallel in the United States for the level of betrayal the oppressed Jewish people felt toward these fellow Jews who had decided to cash in on their misery. Jesus even referred to this vitriol in Matthew 18 when instructing Jews how to treat someone who refuses to repent even when lovingly confronted: “Treat them as you would a pagan or a (gasp!) tax collector.” 

All those around him were no doubt casting shocked glances toward him and each other. Avoid! Yet Jesus courageously cuts through the judgment and takes it on himself. Are we willing to, similarly, love others despite the judgment that might follow? That is courageous love.

Third, Jesus does not just respond; he is willing to befriend. He doesn’t just talk, but he does. He does that thing that in the first century is the ultimate handshake—he has dinner with Zacchaeus, at his house. And no one likes this: “When they saw it, they all grumbled.” Again, Jesus takes his own time, comfort, and reputation, and he throws it all to the side to befriend a real jerk. That is courageous love. 

This has been our message to CHA students, but it’s also a message for all of us. Are we willing to notice? Are we willing to respond, despite? Are we willing to befriend? Are we willing to put others before ourselves? This is what courageous love looks like. 

One final thought. While Jesus is the ultimate example for us, we are not Jesus. It’s easy to look at a passage like this and, trying to imitate Christ, quite forget that the person most like us in this story might very well be Zacchaeus. As we seek to love others, we must have the humility to remember that we, too, are in need of being noticed, responded to, and befriended. It’s only when we keep that vantage point that our courageous love is also a courageous love characterized by the vital ingredient humility

So in this coming quarter as we continue this theme with our CHA students, please partner with us in these talking points. Our prayer is that, more and more, despite our human propensity toward self centeredness, our students grow in their ability to love others courageously.