Saturday, May 16, 2009

Beloved, love one another


We heard in our second reading today from the First Letter of John, “Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God.” In fact, all our Scriptures today and all week have been an ongoing reflection on the nature of love – especially God’s love for us and His command that we love each other. But, language is such an imprecise thing. What does this command to love look like? What does it mean? For example, in Italian, the expression amore divino can be understood in two ways. It could be understood as the “love of God” (amore divino) or it could also be understood as the “love of wine” (amore di vino).

And, just think of how imprecise the word love is in English. We use the same word to talk about ice cream, music, spouses, and even God. Surely the way we love ice cream is different from the way we love God. In Greek, which most of the New Testament was written in, there are three different words for love. There is eros, which is an erotic or sexual love; there is philia or the love between friends or a brotherly love; and there is agape, which is love in its highest form. Now, eros is never used in the New Testament – only philia and agape. And agape by far is the word used most often and the one that St. John is using today when he speaks of the love that is of God; the love that we are called to imitate in our own lives.

John today paints for us a picture of God’s love, which is really just another name for true love. John’s teaching on love can be summarized under three headings: why love? what is love? and how does one love?

So, why love? The passage begins with an exhortation. “Beloved, let us love one another.” John addresses his readers as “beloved” showing that even as he writes there is already love in the community. John asks of them is to continue loving one another. This message is one that we all need to hear. If we love one another, then we should continue loving one another even more. And if we do not yet love one another, then it is time to start doing so. Are we just a group of people who happen to find themselves in the same church today or are we truly community of believers who love one another?

John tells them why they must love one another. It is “because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” In this brief explanation, John gives two reasons, a positive one and a negative one. Positively, he says that love is from God, it finds its origin, its starting point in God. Living a life of love, therefore, is the way to be sure that we know God and that we are children of God; born of God. On the flip side, he makes it plain – if you don’t have love for others then quite simply you do not; cannot know God. It is this simple: If we have love in our lives, we have God in our lives; and if we do not have love in our lives, we cannot possibly have God either. God and love are two different words that mean the same thing. You cannot separate one from the other.

John is addressing people who believe they know God, people for whom it is important to love God, people who are focused on loving God so much so that they sometimes neglect loving their fellow human beings. John is saying that anyone who claims to be a spiritual person or devout lover of God but does not focus equally on the practicality of loving his or her brothers and sisters is living a lie. For example, we cannot claim to love God and have no care for the hungry, the homeless, the poor, the needy, the sick, and so on. To love God is to love them – all of them; in fact, especially those who are often difficult to love; or who have no love in their lives. To grow in our knowledge and love of God, we must endeavor to grow in our knowledge and love of our fellow human beings, our brothers and sisters.

This, of course, begs the question: what does this love look like? What does God’s love look like, and how does it differ from natural human love. John gives us a practical example. He says, “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.” Jesus is what God’s love looks like. Unlike much of human love, which is driven by self-interest, God is moved to love us not because He needed something but because we needed something which only He can give.

Human love starts with the question, “What is in it for me?” But, God’s love begins with the question, “What can I do for you?” Regular human love comes because we want to receive something, be it something as intangible as simply feeling good in the other’s company. God’s love isn’t about receiving; it is about giving. That is why God’s gift of His only Son on the Cross becomes a climactic sign of the way God loves us and the paradigm for the way we should love one another.

This last point on the difference between how God loves and how humans love is so important for John that he goes on and adds one final statement on the nature of true love. “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.” God loves us unconditionally; God gives Himself to us in His Son; God’s love is freely, eagerly given. Our love is often quid pro quo (something for something). For John, this True Love is found not in the way humans usually love but in the way God loves.

We can sometimes view this command to love as just one of many things that God asks of us. Today John teaches us that love is, in fact, the only commandment; it is the source and motivation for all the other commandments.

Moreover, love is not just a commandment of God, love is God Himself. May God, our loving Father, who is love itself; love incarnate, help us to purify our love for Him and multiply our love for one another, so that we can love as generously and as unconditionally as He, loves us.

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God.”

May God give you His love and His peace.

1 comment:

  1. Great homily Fr. Tom. The three questions are a good way to reflect on the passage. Putting it on
    God Bless