1st Reading: Acts 14:21b-27; Psalm: 145. R. v. 1; 2nd Reading: Rev 21:1-5a; Gospel: Jn 13:31-33a.34-35
THE PARADOX OF THE CHRISTIAN LOVE
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
John the Evangelist, the author of the Gospel of John, the three letters of John and the Book of Revelation, lived out his days on the island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea. One day, one of his followers came and spoke to him. ‘Master,’ he said, I’ve always wondered why is it that you always write about love? Why don’t you ever write about anything else?’ St John paused for a while and then said to him ‘Because in the end, there isn’t anything else. There is only love.’
One of the most vivid passages in the scriptures that enumerated succinctly the summary of the Ten Commandment was Matthew 22:37-40. In this passage was the reply of Jesus to a lawyer who enquired to know the greatest commandment in the law. Jesus was explicit in his reply “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And a second is like it, you shall love your neighbour as yourself.” In this teaching, Jesus highlighted that we should model our love for neighbour after the love of oneself. This very teaching on love of neighbour was elevated to another level by Jesus when his death was imminent.
When Judas left to betray him, Jesus said to the rest of his disciples “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (Jn 13:34). The difference in this commandment of love with the previous was that while the previous modelled the love of neighbour after the love of oneself, Jesus in this latter commandment was teaching his disciples to model their love for one another from the love that he has shown them. This was why Jesus called this ‘A new commandment.’ What a message so defining, that since God has united with humanity, our perspective to loving should take a different turn. Such that we can now begin to love not from the reflection of God’s love, but from love himself. For God is love (1Jn 4:16).
Do we wish to understand perfectly this new commandment modelled on Love Divine? There is no better way to understand it than to delve deeply into the nature of Christ the Divine Love personified. If Jesus had asked us to love just as he loved, then we need to reflect through his life and person to understand his kind of love.
Prior to this new commandment Jesus said to his disciples “Now is the Son of man glorified, and in him God is glorified; if God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once” (Jn 13:31-32). What glory was Jesus talking about? It was the glory of the cross that would announce and elevate his love to the vision of the whole world. In the cross of Christ therefore, love was visible, tangible and loudest. “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13). What Jesus preached by word of mouth, he accomplished in action. In Christ, love was glorified on the cross. And still on the cross, we see the love of the Father visible in Christ. So in Christ’s death, we see the highest point of the Father’s love. This explains the interchange of the glory between the Father and Son which Jesus spoke about.
Do we still remember that on that cross hung both God and man? Two natures, visible in one person. So, in that great accentuation on the cross, love suffered. Love was humiliated, disgraced, debased, wounded, scorned and stained by blood. Yet on that same cross and in the same person Jesus Christ, love endured, conquered, earned victory and was glorified. What a wonder that in the divinity and humanity of Jesus exist a paradox that agrees. And this explains who Jesus is. In him is the unity of essence and existence. Two natures, distinct in character yet in harmony. Fully God and fully man yet visible in the one person Jesus Christ. It was in this manner and nature that Jesus through his sacrificial love birthed a new heaven and a new earth for us as recounted in the second reading of today.
Do we now understand what it means to love one another just as Jesus did? That love was revealed on the cross. It is the crucified love. The self-sacrificial love. The love of paradox that does not contradict but agrees. The love that embodies sorrow and joy, shame and fame, humiliation and exaltation, defeat and victory. These opposites do not contradict but agrees because the former is always a ladder to the latter. And in both experiences lie the completeness of love.
“I have found the paradox that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” (St Mother Teresa of Calcutta). Most people choose the way of love but stop loving when it begins to hurt. Can we read aloud the encouraging words of Paul and Barnabas in the first reading of today? They exhorted the church in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch to continue in the faith, for through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:21-22). Every Christian must realise that loving like Jesus without expecting pains and tribulations is an illusion. Because they are the ladder to reaching love’s perfection.
Don’t stop being kind to people because you feel the world is hostile to you. Our generosity should not end even when we feel that people are ungrateful. Your child may be the black sheep of the family but never cease being a parent to him/her. We may love a neighbour and get hate in return. Our goodwill will not always be returned in like manner. So it is evident that joy and sweetness is not the only component of love. If loving ourselves is only what love entails, then we can think so. But since love transcends the self to the service of others, we cannot dictate the manner or response of the recipient of our love. We could get love or hostility in return. And this sets the message that reciprocity shouldn’t motivate the desire to love for we may be discouraged by the response of our love’s recipient.
Let us begin to love not only because we want to love but primarily because God loves us and mandated us to love. So that when our human weakness discourages us, Christ’s love would compels us (2Cor 5:14). Do not be scared of the pains of love, for through them love is perfected. I leave us with these encouraging words of St Mother Teresa of Calcutta:
“People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centred. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”
This is the only way that the world will know that we are Christ’s disciples.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord Jesus, grant us the grace to love just as you have loved us. Amen
Thanks Fr for the enriching reflection