Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Loving like Jesus John 13:31-35 Easter 5c

Keep your eyes on Jesus if you want to learn how he wants you to love.

Reading the Gospel for this week there's a new addition to an old commandment. Jesus is calling us to do something that was part of the law long before Jesus, when he says in John 13:34, “I give you a new command; that you love one another.” This command isn't new. But what he says next to give us a model for how to follow the old law is new...

Augustine wrote a millennium and a half ago,

But was not this already commanded in the ancient law of God, where it is written, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself (Leviticus 19:18”? Why, then, is it called a new one by the Lord, when it is proved to be so old? Is it on this account a new commandment, because He hath divested us of the old, and clothed us with the new man? For it is not indeed every kind of love that renews him that listens to it, or rather yields it obedience, but that love regarding which the Lord, in order to distinguish it from all carnal affection, added, “as I have loved you.” Schaff, Philip. The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Vol. VII. St. Augustin: Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homilies on the First Epistle of John Soliloquies. Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, 1997. Page 317 Logos Index ECF or its online at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1701065.htm

If we only stop at the first part of the commandment we miss the model that Jesus has set for us. We are invited to follow him in loving others as he has loved. If we only catch the first part of the commandment we aren't hearing a new commandment at all.

How long will it take for us to fulfill this new commandment?

What Jesus models for us is a self-giving kind of love. English only has one word for love but Greek has four words that we translate into the one word love. Affectionate love (gk. storge, στοργη); love found in friendship and brotherhood (gk. philia, φιλια); romantic and sexual love (gk. eros, έρως) and finally the word that is translated as love from this section from the Gospel of John self-giving love (gk. agapē, αγαπη). C.S. Lewis has a wonderful description of the differences in the book The Four Loves.

Jesus spoke boldly in this new commandment agapē, αγαπη. It is a commandment for a lifetime. Love as Christ loved. Love as the one who healed lepers, love as the one who stood in the way of the stoning of a woman accused of adultery. Love as the one who died on a cross. John 13:34 is Jesus' plan for a whole life following God. “A new command I give you: continually love (ἀγαπα̂τε) one another. As I have loved and continue to love (ἠγάπησα) you, so you must continually love (ἀγαπα̂τε) one another.”

The Latin I've seen used for αγαπη (agape) is caritas the root both of cardiac or heart and charity. I think that charity in the contemporary sense, where most in our culture give only on occasion because of an emotional impulse to tragedy, doesn't carry the full weight of Jesus command. He wants us to love and to keep on loving. Whatever we say about this type of love being different from the other loves that we know I think that we also need to recognize that Jesus is inviting us into a new life shaped by love that doesn't stop but continues for the rest of our days.

1 comment:

Pastor Eric said...

When my wife and I were married, our pastor talked about the four greek words for "love" that you have described. But as I listen to them again, I keep thinking, "one of these things is not like the other..." Storge, philia and eros seem to be a love that is of this world, which can and often does fade. Agape love is the love that God shows us in Jesus Christ. This love does not fade.

So as you say, this new commandment is not to show love that fades away, but Agape love -- love which does not fade away.

The first three words for love are very familiar to us and are somewhat "easy" (I use that word loosely) but self-giving love requires a lot more from us and thus more difficult. But this is the very love Jesus commands us to show and hence -- "new".

Thank you again for your thoughts. I really enjoy stopping by here every week.