THE COMMANDMENT OF LOVE
Acts 10:25-26,34-35,44-48; 1Jn 4:7-10; Jn 15: 9-17
Today’s gospel text is part of Jesus’ farewell discourse. It forms part of the last words of Jesus to his disciples. It is patterned after that of Moses, the great Jewish leader Moses. Moses’ last words stressed the importance of the COMMANDMENTS, and Jesus’ last words alluded to his NEW COMMANDMENT: Love. Today’s passage gives the way in which we can remain alive, grow, and be fruitful: that is, to remain in Jesus’ love (Jn 15:10). Jesus uses the word “love” no less than nine times in sixteen lines of this gospel. Nowhere in the gospel does the theme of love dominate a text so strongly. His words on love become his last legacy to us. He makes love the supreme value od his followers.
1. THE COMMAND TO LOVE
In the gospel text of today, Jesus COMMANDS us TO LOVE as he himself loved. It is not a simple request or wish. It is a COMMAND. In that brief text, Jesus uses the word “command” or “commandment” five times. He is not merely making a proposal to his followers; he is giving them an injunction. Jesus makes statements such as: “Keep my commandments” (Jn 15:10); “This is my commandment” (Jn 15:12); “This I command you” (Jn 15:16). He further emphasizes: “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you to go forth and bear fruit,” This tells us the seriousness with which our Lord wants us to take his words: “Love one another as I love you.”
Jesus Christ says to his disciples, “This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you.” He does not start off by asking us his disciples “to love one another”. If he had done it that way, his disciples would not have understood what he meant by “Love”. For that reason, God first loved us (mankind). By doing this, he taught us how to love, such that he may now command us to love one another as he has loved us. In this way, we can come to the friendship of God as presented to human beings by Jesus himself in today’s Gospel.
The word “Love” is one that we have on our lips every day, but quite often we fail to search and understand its deeper meaning. In the original language of the New Testament (Greek), there are various expressions for what we call LOVE today. For every context of the concept of love, they had a different word. For instance, they had a specific term for the love for our parents, for a best friend, a romantic partner, a grandparent, a sibling, a job, an automobile, etc. Each expression had its peculiar meaning and could not be mistaken for the other, whereas in our modern usage we seem to use one word (“love”) for all.
When Jesus uses the word “love”, and commands his followers “to love” one another, he is using the word in a specific and unmistakable context. To understand Jesus’ command, it is worth taking a brief look at the ancient Greek articulations on this belaboured word: LOVE. For, it is from this ancient context that Jesus draws his meaning of concept put forward for our reflection.
2. THE ANCIENT GREEK WORDS FOR “LOVE”
The Greeks had several words that corresponded to different types of love. Here, we are going to treat the eight principal ones:
a) Eros (romantic, passionate love). It is named after the Greek God of fertility. Eros is passion, lust and pleasure. The ancient Greeks considered Eros to be dangerous and frightening as it involves a “loss of control” through the primal impulse to procreate. Eros is an intense form of love that arouses romantic and sexual feelings.
b) Philia (affectionate love): It is equitable to friendship. It is a love that goes beyond mere “physical attraction.” It describes a love of equals who are united in a common purpose, pursuit, good, or end.
c) Storge (familiar love): It is pronounced “store-jay”. It is a natural form of affection experienced between family members. This protective, kinship-based love is common between parents and their children, and children for their parents. Storge can also describe a sense of patriotism toward a country or allegiance to a team/club.
d) Mania (obsessive love): When love turns to obsession, it becomes mania. It is characterized by stalking behaviours, co-dependency, extreme jealousy, and even violence. Mania love can be very possessive.
e) Ludus (playful love): The Ancient Greeks thought of ludus as a playful form of love. It describes the situation of having a crush and acting on it. It refers to the kind of affection between young lovers.
f) Pragma (enduring love): Pragma is a love built on commitment, understanding and long-term best interests. It is a love that has aged, matured. Such lovers are always ready to make compromises to help the relationship work. They show lots of patience and tolerance in their relationship.
g) Philautia (self-love): The Greeks understood that in order to care for others, we must first learn to care for ourselves. As Aristotle said “All friendly feelings for others are an extension of a man’s feelings for himself.” However, such a love can be healthy or unhealthy. For the Greeks, unhealthy self-love is when someone places him/herself above the gods, or, like certain modern politicians who place their interests above the greater/common good. The Greeks believed that such a love led to destruction, or nemesis.
h) Agape (selfless, universal love): An example of this type of love is the love for strangers, nature, or God. It is unconditional, bigger than ourselves, a boundless compassion and an infinite empathy that is extended to everyone, whether they are family members or distant strangers. “Agape” is selfless love that flows from God to his creatures, and that flows from one human person to the other, like God’s own love.
3. JESUS’ COMMANDMENT OF LOVE
Specifically, the love that Jesus is talking about in the gospel of today is AGAPE. “Agape” is the love that couples/lovers should have for each other. It is the love that Christians should also have for one another. This love is that selfless type which comes because we see one another as human persons and created in the image and likeness of God. You love a person not only LIKE yourself, but even MORE THAN yourself. Agape-lovers live their lives for one another. Persons who love each other in this manner are available to each other as if that was the reason why God created them. They are able to say of one another, “my friend loves me and I know it.” This kind of love is void of fear, mistrust, hatred and cheating. St. Paul describes “agape” in the following words: It “is always patient and kind; it is never jealous; love is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offense, and is not resentful. Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins but delights in the truth; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes. Love does not come to end (1Cor. 13:1-8).
In this type of love each lover uses his/her whole strength to help the other through difficulties. In fact, one lover prefers to suffer than watch the other suffering. One cannot be happy unless the other is happy; one is always ready to sacrifice his/her own point of view to achieve that of the other. Such lovers keep loving each other even when there is anger, and a misunderstanding between them. They endure hardships just for the sake of the other. They LISTEN TO EACH OTHER WITH LOVE. The one pays attention to the other, and cares for the other person, listening, not only with the EARS but also with the HEART, and trying also to guess the hidden meaning behind every word spoken. This is the kind love that Christ is calling us to practice today. This is what it means to love the other “with all your whole heart, with all your whole soul, with your whole mind” (Deut 6:5; 10:12; 13:3, Mtt 22:37; Lk 10:27). In this type of love, the lovers are FRIENDS in every sense of the word.
4. HOW DID JESUS LOVE?
Jesus commands us today “to love as God loves us”. The way God loves us constitutes the subject of our Second Reading of today: “In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins”. For this reason, Jesus sacrificed his life by dying on the cross for mankind. Jesus loved until it costed him his life. He loved all the way to the cross and to death. If Jesus had stopped loving before Calvary, then it would not have been love at all. It would have been Philautia (self-love), not AGAPE. It would have been a love that seeks only what he could get of it. But love in the sense that God means is the type that entails undergoing suffering for the sake of the other. That is real love: loving for the good of the other. Jesus himself describes this kind of love thus: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friend.” (John 15:13). Jesus showed this love even to those who were killing him: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34).
5. OBEDIENCE TO JESUS’ COMMANDMENT
Jesus mentions importance of obedience several times in today’s gospel text. Faith is not mere a assent to a body of truth. It is a belief in this truth that is so strong that it dictates how we live our lives here in the concrete. The Chief Command (and privilege) is to love. As earlier mentioned, love is talked about, sung about, romanticized and fantasized. But in its simplest terms “there is no greater love than this, that a man would lay down his life for his friends.” We read similarly in 1John 3:16: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” True love at its most basic is “giving of ourselves to each other.” Therefore, the real question for us each day should be: “Did I extend love to someone today?”, not “Have I made any money?” or “Did I get anything accomplished?” It is very easy for someone to get so wrapped up in his/her daily tasks that we forget that true and happy living is not about tasks but about people. A wonderful place to start living the commandment of love would be in our own homes, with our spouses, children, parents, and other family members. How wonderful would it be if one were to ask each day, “Have I shown my spouse, children, parents, etc. that I love them today?”
There is something else we should not forget about the commandment of Jesus today. Jesus says that there are some specific and tangible blessings attached to keeping his commandment: We shall enjoy the blessings of a focused life. We will develop Godly character. If we remain in Christ we will bear fruit. As we talked in last week’s gospel reading, that fruit is a Christ-like Character. We will also know joy. Jesus tells us these things so that his joy might be in us and that our joy may be full. (Jn 15:11).
Our Lord is concerned that we enjoy life. God wants us to enjoy life. That is a revelation to most people. Quite often, people think that God is only concerned our “toeing the line” and “avoiding wrong doing”. No! God’s primary concern is for our joy. Joy comes when we walk with him. What a wonderful thing to say that we are the personal friend of the president of a great nation like America! Would it not be greater to say that we are friends of God? Jesus tells us that “we are his friends if we do what he commands us”. Imagine being a friend to the Creator, the Saviour and the King of the universe! Jesus further adds: “If you remain in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” (Jn 15:7 – from last week’s gospel, and Jn 15:16). If we walk with the Father, then what we want he will be delighted to give us.
6. JESUS’ COMMANDMENT OF LOVE AND MARRIED LIFE
A prevalent question in the minds of many people whose marriage do not seem to move on well is: why do marriages often fail? The answer to all this is the fact that people do not try to live agape-love. For a husband and wife to succeed in their marriage, they must die to self every day just as Jesus died for sinners. They must be ready to lay down their lives for each other. If there is something a marriage partner does not like and the other insists on doing, that is a potential source of their divorce or marriage difficulty. FOR THE SAKE OF LOVE, every lover must DIE; or he/she must readily give up doing anything that hurts the partner. Very often, one hears marriage partners make statements in pidgin English like: “Who come for loses (who came to this earth to be a loser)?” In effect such people believe that they must e the winner in every argument or fight. If the husband or wife insists in winning at all times, then he/she is opting to lose their marriage. If both lovers insist on “winning” (“staying alive” at the expense of each other), then the marriage will certainly DIE! In order to stay in love, and keep a relationship alive, one person or both of them must constantly DIE to self.
Furthermore, it is worthy to note that couples/lovers do not stay in love because they forget the hurts they cause each other. They stay in love simply because they are able to ALWAYS FORGIVE each other. Love for one another takes the form of forgiveness. In love, one must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. Forgiveness in marriage (and in other human relationship besides) does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to one’s friendship. Forgiveness is a catalyst that creates the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning. Forgiveness is the lifting of a burden or the cancelling of a debt and coming together again. To live together for a single year, under one roof, with a lover is to have forgiven thousands times and more. That is why Jesus says, while on the cross, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34).
God is love! May we love as Christ loves! And may he forgive us for the many times we have mistreated others in the name of love. May Mary, our Loving Mother, intercede for us in this regard!