On Christian Love

January 16, 2013

We all know about love, and so why would one rather discuss about Christian love? What is a Christian love? That’s the question that I would like to reflect on this article. I remember a story that was told by Thomas Smith. He told a story of a man who was going to propose a woman during a pilgrimage to Holy Land. Everyone knew about the plan except the girl, of course. When they arrived at Cana, everyone was so excited and waited for the man to propose the girl. It was just the right place as Jesus did his first sign in a wedding. But the man did not. So the people were surprised and questioned whether the man will ever propose the girl during that pilgrimage. It turned out he did. But not at Cana, it was at Golgotha. He put the ring in a hole where the cross was thought to be erected, and ask the girl to put her hand inside it to find the ring, and the this is what he said, “As Jesus laid down his life for us, I too want to lay down my life for you. Will you marry me?” What is love? And maybe to be more precise what is love in our Christian understanding? How we as Christians should love?

 

The Gospel of John speaks a lot about Jesus commandment to love. For this reflection, I would like to start from John 15:12-17.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

In fact, two chapters before, during the last supper, Jesus has mentioned this commandment.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
This is the new commandment that Jesus gave us, that is to love one another. But what is so new about this commandment? Isn’t that this commandment to love one’s neighbour has been there, even in the Old Testament (Lev 19:18)?
 
I believe that the newness of this commandment is in the second part, that is we are to love “as I have loved you”. In the Old Testament we are expected to love our neighnour as we love our selves, but in the New Testament, we are called to love as God loves. That is divine!
 
We may then ask, how does God love us? Coming back to our scripture passage, Jesus said it clearly,
Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
Jesus set the example. He laid down his life for us. He himself said that he is the Good Shepherd, and a Good Shepherd lay down his life for his sheep. And he really did that. He laid down his life on the Cross for you and for me. And not only that, he even continue to lay down his life on the altar in every Eucharistic feast. It is as if God is not content just to say “I love you”, he came down and died for us. And as if it is not enough for him to die for us, he gave us his flesh and blood, and poured out his spirit for us in the bread and wine that we receive every Sunday. In short, God gives all. His love is total, and unreserved. He loves us fully up to the point of giving himself as food for us.
 
Not only his love is total, but his love is also unconditional. St. Paul said that Jesus laid down his life for us, he died for us, while we were sinners. God did not wait for us to love him, believe in him, and only then he will love us. He did not wait for us to know him or to repent. No. He loved us first. He gave himself totally for us, regardless of our response. His love is without condition. God’s love is unconditional.
 
It is just right at this moment that we should stop and reflect. We as christians, how do we love? Do we love totally? Do we love unconditionally? It is so easy to love others for the sake of being loved. It is so easy to be calculative in our love. And yet it is our call, and our vocation, to love as God loves.
 
How will that be possible? How can we love as God loves? Don’t you think that the request is just impossible? And yet, the Good News is that we believe that Jesus will help us to do what he commands us to do. In a few verses before the passage that we are reflecting, Jesus gave the answer on how we will be able to love as he loves us.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.
The key is in abiding in Jesus. Unless we abide in Jesus and Jesus in us, it is just impossible. But if we do, then Jesus said we will bear fruit. The same fruit that the vine will produce. The same love that God loves.
 
I remember a story of Mother Teresa and her Missionary of Charity sisters. They always have a Eucharistic celebration in the morning before they go out to the streets and serve the poor. There was one day when the priest who was supposed to celebrate the Eucharist came late. When the priest arrived, he expected to see no one as he assumed that the sisters would have gone to the streets. But he was wrong. All the sisters were waiting for him to come. So he asked Mother Teresa why she didn’t go to the streets that day. And Mother Teresa simply say, “how can we love the poor without Jesus in our hearts?”.
 
The key is in abiding in Jesus, and I think that is why Jesus move on to talk about his disciples as his friends in the next few verses. A friend knows. A friend has relationship with the other.
No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
There was an Old Testament character that God calls as his friend. One of them is Moses. Moses used to enter the tent of meeting to speak to God. And this is what is written about him.
Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.
There is intimacy between Moses and God. And that intimacy is shown clearly in the lives of Jesus. During his life on earth, Jesus shows his intimacy with the Father. And this is his source of life.
 
And so Jesus gave us the key to to love as He loves, and that is in our relationship with him. The more we abide in Him and He in us, the more we will be more like him. Just as the wood in the fire will be transformed, so are we as we abide in Jesus. We will be more like Jesus.
 
And Jesus told us that as we abide in Him, and He in us, we will bear fruit. In fact, in our passage, Jesus also mentioned about this fruit.
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide;
What is this fruit? Why did Jesus use the image of fruit in loving one another? I believe there are some characteristics of a fruit that should be the characteristics of our love to others.
 
One thing that we can see is that a fruit is tangible. We can even know the tree from its fruit. It is so tangible that animals passing can grab and eat it. And that fruit gives life. So it must be the same with our love. Our love must be tangible! It is not enough for us just to say “I love you”, our love must be shown in action. And it must give life to others. In fact this is what St. John said in his letters (1 John 3:16-18).
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
But if any one has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?
Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth.
Let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and in truth. Our love must be tangible, and it must gives life to others. I find it interesting that John gave an example of real love by giving to the poor and the needy. How many of us gives to the poor and the needy?
 
But there is another aspect of a fruit. A fruit is an image of an offering. In our Eucharistic liturgy, we found this beautiful prayer said by the priest.
Blessed are you, Lord God of all
creation, for through your
goodness we have received the
bread we offer you: fruit of the
earth and work of human
hands, it will become for us the
bread of life.

Blessed are you, Lord God of all
creation,for through your
goodness we have received
the wine we offer you: fruit of
the vine and work of human
hands it will become our
spiritual drink.

In the Eucharistic prayer, the priest pray on the fruit of the earth, and the fruit of the vine, which are the bread and wine that lay on the altar. And so our little acts of love can be a pleasing offering to God. And so it just right that as we celebrate the Eucharist every Sunday, every time the offering of bread and wine is brought to the altar, we should remember our fruit, we should offer up our little acts of love day to day. That is our prayer, that is our offering.
 
I know someone whom I see living this Christian love. That is my mom. Last year, my dad was diagnosed with a cancer and he had his surgery. But since then, he still has pain in his stomach, and so even in the middle of the night he would wake up and needs to eat something to relieve the comfort. And through out this period when my dad was sick, my mom has always been loving my dad faithfully. She is serving the food, taking the medication, etc. Even in the middle of the night, she would wake up for every couple of hours to serve something for my dad. And there was time when she got sick, maybe because she was too tired. And yet, she never complained and continue to serve my dad, even in the middle of the night. In her, I see how love can be tangible and gives life. I have never heard her say “I love you” to my dad. But I believe she has loved him in deed and in truth.
 
So what is Christian love? Jesus himself told us, that he calls us to love one another as he himself has loved us. And he showed us the way to love, by laying down his life for us. And we too are called to lay down our life for others, to love totally and unconditionally. We are called to bear fruit, a fruit that abides. We are called to love in deed and in truth, and allow that fruit of love to give life to others. And he told us the key to be divine, and that is to abide in him, to be his friends, to love him everyday. It is only then, we can love as he loves.
 
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