We confuse “being nice” with love. Jesus was loving, but Jesus was not concerned with being nice.
Being nice is often an attempt to avoid conflict, prevent/repress anger, earn approval, and project a facade that evokes admiration and affection.
Love boldly enters into conflict with the goal of honest reconciliation. Love acknowledges and appropriately expresses anger. Love is transparent and emits adoration and affection.
Years ago a work colleague aggressively challenged a decision I had made. My fear told me to keep the peace, apology and reverse course. Upon reflection, however, I realized that my decision was appropriate and important. I held my ground. Though my coworker became belligerent, I remained firm and respectful, while also tending to my anger and hurt.
After some weeks, we worked our way through to a resolution and established a much stronger bond than we had before. If I had acquiesced for the sake of being nice, resentment would have smoldered against my coworker and against myself.
Jesus overturned vendor tables in the temple and told his friend Peter to “get behind me Satan” when Peter pleaded with Jesus to take the easy way out.
Love does not take the easy way out. It is the way through. Passing through fear, hurt, and anger, true love creates a deeper connection than is ever possible by avoiding issues for the sake of being nice. Being nice is a seductive quagmire that lures us in with promises of safety and affection, yet which yields neither in the long run.
I grew up in the south, where being nice was seen as a supreme virtue by many. When I moved to New York, I found the abrasive honesty there both jarring and refreshing. No longer did I have to say, “Bless your heart”, when I was feeling “go to hell”.
Sometimes the best way to bless a heart is to call out devilish behavior. Truth without love is not true. Love without truth is not love. Ultimately, you cannot have one without the other.
Jesus never mastered being nice. If he did, he may have lived a longer life, but it’s doubtful any of us today would know his name or want to be like him.