The Jerk, Daily Reform, Day 36


Galatians 1:6-9 & Luke 8:9-15

From the Reformer

The Galatians might say: “Paul, we do not pervert the Gospel you have brought unto us. We did not quite understand it. That is all. Now these teachers who came after you have explained everything so beautifully.” This explanation the Apostle refuses to accept. They must add nothing; they must correct nothing. “What you received from me is the genuine Gospel of God. Let it stand. If any man brings any other gospel than the one I brought you, or promises to deliver better things than you have received from me, let him be accursed.”

—Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

Pulling It Together

In the Carl Reiner movie, “The Jerk,” (story by Steve Martin and Carl Gottlieb) the hero of the story, Navin (Martin), has been reduced to who he truly is, in his own words: “a jerk” with a thermos. In one of a hundred memorable scenes, he has lost his fortune and leaves his beloved Marie (Bernadette Peters), saying as he leaves that he does not need her or any of the material things he has accumulated. It is the loss of his “stuff” that makes him feel he has lost the love of his life. After all, she could not possibly love him if he does not have “stuff.” Yet as he leaves their home insisting, “I don’t need this stuff, and I don’t need you,” he adds to the list of things he does not need, “I don’t need anything. Except this.” Navin then picks up an ashtray and declares that he does indeed need it, and then a “paddle game” and other assorted and useless “stuff.”

Of course, he does not need the armload of “stuff” at all. What he really needs is Marie but he cannot believe she could love him without his “stuff.” So he leaves and becomes a derelict who clutches a thermos, somehow a symbol of the love he has lost.

Navin’s story is all too often our story. God loves us because we are simply us, not because we are beautiful or brilliant or talented or wealthy. He just loves us. Go figure. In a simpler time of our lives we accept his love and revel in it. As time goes on we tend to become religious, accumulating all of the “stuff” of religion, until God becomes a corner-piece like Marie in the aforementioned scene. Like Marie, all God wants is to offer us his gracious love but we cannot imagine God could love us simply because we are somehow the object of his love. And so, like Navin, we accumulate “stuff” that we know is not necessary but does make us feel religious.

God does not love us for what we do for him. He simply loves us. We must get over ourselves — our “necessary” and required rules and rituals and religion and “stuff” — and accept his love once again.

© Mark E. Ryman, Daily Reform: Devotions with the Reformers

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