A Greater Love

We heard in the first reading Saint Paul tell members of the early church that “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God[1] and when we read early church history we quickly come to understand just how difficult and dangerous it was to be a Christian during those unsettled times.

Ten Commandments

Ten Commandments

Even Saint Paul for a time made the lives of the followers of ‘The Way’ difficult. All of the Apostles except for John were martyred under terrifying and horrific circumstances. Even Paul couldn’t escape such an end. Christians were persecuted, tortured and suffered horribly all in the name of Jesus Christ. Today in the Middle East and around the globe we find much the same: Christians, beheaded and crucified, martyrs for their faith.

Yet here in the West, where we live safely ensconced in our comfortable homes, far removed from any personal existential threat, we have no true sense of what Saint Paul was describing, for we have no experience or direct understanding of such hardships. At times it seems as though the greatest hardships we are called upon to endure are longer lines at the airport due to heightened security concerns, having to forego that mouth-watering double-double cheeseburger, large order of fries and large coke because of recent weight gains, or the debilitating angst and self-induced fear incurred upon hearing something that offends our all too delicate sensibilities.

Let’s face it, we are spoiled by the bounty that surrounds us and perhaps it is that which presents the greatest difficulty. We have grown accustomed to all the pleasantries of life and all to quick to rankle at even the smallest inconvenience or perceived offense against our tender natures. As a consequence we have become ever more self-absorbed and self-centered and decidedly less inclined to accept or obey that which disagrees or runs counter to our desires. When it comes to those things with which we disagree that carry no apparent or immediate penalty, all too often we simply choose to ignore them.

At the Last supper Jesus said to his disciples “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”[2] The question we must ask ourselves is “What is new about this commandment?” When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments he said, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength[3]  and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[4] So again, what exactly is new here?

Certainly if Jesus had simply said, “I give you a new commandment: love one another” there would be some reason to question as to whether it was really a ‘new’ commandment. But Jesus didn’t stop there, for he continued: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” Now on the face of it this doesn’t appear to be much different than loving your neighbor as yourself but it is in fact radically different, so much so that it truly is a ‘new’ commandment.

As Cyril of Alexandria wrote in the early fifth century,

“To understand the full force of these words, we have to consider how Christ loved us. Then it will be easy to see what is new and different in the commandment we are now given.Speaking of Christ, Paul tells us that “although his nature was divine, he did not cling to his equality with God, but stripped himself of all privilege to assume the condition of a slave. He became as we are, and appearing in human form humbled himself by being obedient even to the extent of dying, dying on a cross.” And elsewhere Paul writes: “Though he was rich, he became poor.”

Do you not see what is new in Christ’s love for us? The law commanded people to love their brothers and sisters as they love themselves, but our Lord Jesus Christ loved us more than himself.

He who was one in nature with God the Father and his equal would not have descended to our lowly estate, nor endured in his flesh such a better death for us, not submitted to the blows given him by his enemies, to the shame, the derision, and all the other sufferings that could not possibly be enumerated; nor, being rich, would he have become poor, had he not loved us far more than himself.

It was indeed something new for love to go as far as that!

Christ commands us to love as he did, putting neither reputation, nor wealth, not anything whatever before love of our brothers and sisters. If need be we must even be prepared to face death for our neighbor’s salvation as did our Savior’s blessed disciples and those who followed in their footsteps.

To them the salvation of others mattered more than their own lives and they were ready to do anything or to suffer anything to save souls that were perishing. I die daily, said Paul. “Who suffers weakness without my suffering too? Who is made to stumble without my heart blazing with indignation?”

The Savior urged us to practice this love that transcends the law as the foundation of true devotion to God. He knew that only in this way could we become pleasing in God’s eyes, and that it was by seeking the beauty of the love implanted in us by himself that we should attain to the highest blessings.”[5]

As Jesus said and as Cyril explained, this was a ‘new’ commandment, but what does it mean and exactly how does this apply to us today? Here and now?

A commandment is a mandate or rule of law which demands strict adherence. God gave to Moses the Ten Commandments, ten fundamental rules which all Jews and Christians are obligated to obey. Jesus who is God subsequently added an eleventh, a rule to be observed as strictly as any one of the first ten.

While each commandment holds equal weight in the eyes of God—they are his commandments after all—it is obvious that the same does not necessarily hold true for many Christians and Jews. When it comes to the eleven commandments we have a tendency bordering on compulsive behavior to place each of them on a sliding scale, ranking each from zero (it’s no big deal so don’t worry about it) to ten (take this one seriously because if you don’t you definitely won’t enjoy eternity.) Most, I would suppose would rank the second, third, and fourth commandments at or near zero with the fifth a ten and the remaining seven somewhere in between.  Once again our self-righteousness and our desire to avoid hardships and to seek happiness in the here and now lead us into a state of delusional self-justification.

But let’s return to the ‘new’ commandment that Jesus gave us. This commandment sounds simple enough and easy to comply with but don’t be fooled because it in fact really, really, really, really hard! Although it doesn’t seem like it on its face: “Love one another,” we are forgetting the more important part, aren’t we? “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” And that makes it a far, far, far more difficult a task for it requires us, no, it commands us to put nothing before love of our brothers and sisters, even to face death for our neighbor’s salvation.

Jesus once asked Peter three times: “do you love me?”, told him to tend and feed his flock and then he said “Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” And elsewhere Jesus says “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”[6] Yet isn’t this exactly what Jesus is telling us to do with his ‘new’ commandment?

We are commanded by God to love one another as he loves us. That is not and never will be an easy thing to do but it most definitely is what we must do, not only for the salvation of our brothers and sisters but for our own salvation as well.

 


[1] Acts 14:22.
[2] Jn 13:34.
[3] Dt 6:4-5.
[4] Lv 19:18.
[5] Cyril of Alexandria, On John’s Gospel 9: p. 74, 161-164.
[6] Mt 16:24-25.

Deacon Chuck

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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