Michael M. Burke, O. P., D. Min.
Jesus Commands Us to Love
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6th SUNDAY OF EASTER, B, MAY 21, 2006, OUR LADY OF THE ROSARY CHURCH, LOUISBURG, NC, 10 AM MASS

 CORE THOUGHT: JESUS COMMANDS US TO LOVE AS HE LOVED, LAYING DOWN OUR LIFE FOR OUR FRIENDS.  Scripture: 1 John 4:7-10; Gospel of John, 15: 9-17.

           I THINK OF THE WOMAN WHO CALLED THE PASTOR SOME YEARS AGO WHEN LOVE WAS BEGINNING TO BE MENTIONED MORE AND MORE.  SHE CALLED COMPLAINING, ‘PASTOR, I’M SICK AND TIRED OF ALL THIS TALK ABOUT LOVE!  LOVE THIS, LOVE THAT. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE.  LET’S GET BACK TO THE ESSENTIALS.’

          I suppose for someone schooled back in the forties and fifties all the emphasis on love after the Vatican Council and renewal in the church did sound ‘lite’ and easy, maybe non-religious.  I can remember when the emphasis in religion was on sacrifice, the Sacrifice of the Mass, the Cross, and personal sacrifice.  Maybe it all seemed to some very heavy and separate from human experience that thrives on love and the happiness that love brings.

           Yet, love is the central message of the Christian faith.  For us Christians, our ‘handle’ for God is love.  Listen to 1 John 4:7-10, ‘Beloved, let us love on another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.  Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love…In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.’

           And Jesus says in the Gospel:  (Just) as the Father loves me, so I also love you.  Remain in my love.  If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love…This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command you.’

           I think the problem is that the woman who complained to the pastor thought of love as something other than the love that is revealed to us in the Letter of John and the Gospel of John.  There was a time when the efforts for renewing our liturgy focused more on externals that were refreshing and fun, but somehow belied the real meaning of love.  There were balloons, clowns and other creative expressions of the joy of our faith, but perhaps some took these expressions of love and misunderstood them.  They appeared to be more like a feeling, or a romantic or superficial notion of love.  Somehow the woman who complained was getting at something that we should not lose and that is the depth of what the love of God is.

           The love that Jesus speaks about is a love that causes a person to lay down his life for his friends.  It is a sacrificial love that goes to any extent to prove and show that love.  There is nothing ‘lite’ or fickle about it.  It isn’t puppy love, or a good feeling.  In fact it is a love that shows itself when the feelings have gone that might make love easy.

 I once read that love in a marriage is a man cleaning the ring around the bathtub!  That’s a pretty vivid example of something only one with love in their heart would do.  It’s dirty work.  It’s humble work.  It is a work of love, caring and commitment. It’s a sign that I’m willing to do something that takes some elbow grease, some willingness to get dirty to clean up the dirt.  It’s just a little thing, but it is the little things that show what love is. 

          I once saw a card with the word ‘A GAP E’ on it.  Now I know that the word ‘Agape’ means love.  It is the Greek word for love.  It is not romantic love, ‘eros,’ that we see in romance novels where a perfect man and a perfect woman find one another and live happily ever after, nor is it even ‘philia,’ the love of friendship, as beautiful as that is, but is connected to loving another with whom we have something in common, nor is it even ‘storge’ love, the love you may have for ice cream or a cold beer, as delightful as they are.  No, ‘agape’ love is the love God has for us that is unconditional and doesn’t depend on our beauty, it is the love that caused God to send Jesus as our Savior when we were still in sin and very separated from God and disobedient.  It is a love that transcends all our human motives that are dependent upon the response or beauty of the one loved or the thing loved.  It is a love that ‘first’ loves us when we have not even responded.

  So the inside of the card that had ‘agape’ on it on the outside in three circles, opened to an ‘A’ which continued, ‘automatic,’ then the ‘gap’ opened to ‘gap’ and the ‘e’ to ‘eliminator.’  That is really what ‘agape’ love does and is.  It is an automatic gap eliminator.   It connects God to us and connects us to the unlovable and the unappealing, but for their being a creature of God.

           Agape love is what holds a marriage together, holds a relationship together, friends together, a life together.  It is so much more than cleaning the ring around the bathtub, but it sure includes that.  It is all that goes into making a marriage work or any commitment last.  It is the forgiveness, the understanding, the compromise, the faithfulness, the vulnerability, the presence and the ongoing willingness to go deeper in care and understanding of the other.  It is way beyond feeling, it is way beyond the honeymoon.  Maybe the woman who complained realized that people were missing the heart of God’s message.  Perhaps she was a little droll and joyless, but she may have sensed that the guts of love was being lost.  She complained about all this talk about love and in her complaining had accidentally said more than she intended.  She was aggravated by lots of talk of love and no action.

 Remember in the ‘My Fair Lady,’  there is a song that  Eliza Doolittle sings, ‘Don’t talk of love, show me!’   That’s what the woman wanted, proof of love. 

          For us Christians we are called to this love.  That is why the cross and the crucifix are so moving for us, for they show to us what real love is, God the Father’s love for us in asking His Son to suffer unto death for us.  Jesus’ own love for the Father, with his arms stretched out on the cross saying, ‘Do you want to know how much I love you?  Then extending his arms completely on the wooden beams of the cross to embrace us, he shows us …  ‘This much!’

           The love that really makes the world go round is faithful, committed and sacrificial.  It is, however, not joyless, or heavy or funereal or obliging or accusing or belittling or manipulative or insisting or imprisoning.  No, it is full of joy, it takes delight in laying down its life, it loves to love.  It is not sad or obligating of the other.  It leaves the other free and gives freely, asking nothing in return.  It never demeans or makes the one it loves or sacrifices for feel obligated, or smaller, or trapped.  It frees, it inspires, it invigorates and heals.

           There are loads of images we can bring to mind of agape love,  and times we’ve experienced this love, like one I witnessed recently.  There is a mother who visits her son every day in the Raleigh Rehab.  He is almost totally paralyzed from a car accident.  He’s a teenager.  It’s not important to go over the details of why he had the accident.  What is significant is that his mother responds when asked does she come to be with her son every day, ‘Of course, I’m his mother.’  That is a mother’s love, it is ‘agape’ love, it is committed.  It is faithful, it is forgiving, it is steadfast and sacrificial, and not counting the cost.  It loves because love is of God.

           If the movies or romance novels or the worldly media is our Gospel then we will stop short of agape love.  When the going gets rough or there is nothing in it for us, we may very likely stop loving…but we may never have even begun to love with agape love, the love that eliminate all the gaps. 

           The little sign said ‘Agape’ love was ‘automatic.’  I’m not sure it is automatic.  I think rather that it is a grace.  It comes from God.  It is given to us every time we hear of it in the living story of Jesus proclaimed for us at Eucharist.  It stirs our hearts, opens them up, reveals to us a love that is beyond what we think we are capable of on our own and takes us to a realm of love that fulfills and completes our humanity.  Then when we pray the Eucharistic prayer and open up again and again the energy of that love that is Jesus’ love of the Father and the Father’s love for Jesus, ‘As the Father loves me, so I also love you,’ we are touched and changed by that love, transformed, really our substance, our identity is changed, ‘transubstantiated,’ enlarged, expanded, deepened and fulfilled, consecrated once again and we are able to know and experience ‘agape’ love, God’s love in our hearts and lives. 

           With the complaining lady, we too are tired of all this talk about love.  We want action.  Show Me!  And we are tired of repeating promises of love, ‘love, love,’ We don’t mind the word love, if it is really the love that is God’s love and the love that is meant to be ours that will make us into the ‘beloved’ sons and daughters that we are intended to be and really are.  The lady is only wrong in her complaint if she misses the love that really is essential, agape love. 

          If she happens to call you and complains, show her that you know not only how to clean the ring around the bathtub, but that you have already done it.


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