Love One another as I have loved you…Not so simple!
All you need is love. The Beatles sang those words in the turbulent times of the 60’s. Reaction came in two forms: and enthusiastic embrace as the simple solution for all of the worlds’ problems or a critical rejection of a dreamy emotion that distracts us from real world solutions. Today we still get these same reactions: One side cries out can’t we all just get along? And the other side demands a clear-eyed acknowledgement of and a forceful response to the base motives and evil intent of others. Neither one finds much support in Jesus’ mandate to love one another. Jesus certainly praises love – it is a gift from God, an excellence of character, and a way of life; nothing here dismisses it as a flight of fancy. On the other hand the word love is highly ambiguous. Jesus can’t just leave it at Love one another! He needs to describe this love and offer examples. As beautiful as love may be, we too often throw the word around lightly.
I Love my wife, I love my children, I love my pet, I love chocolate, I love this pillow…I find it ironic that the English language has so many words for many mundane things like the color red for instance: Carnelian, Vermillion, Carmine, Crimson, yet only one word for love.
In the Greek language, that language that the Bible is written in, the word love translates into several Greek words. Even in Greek the words for love do not offer mutually exclusive definitions. For example: it is not the case that eros and epithymia are always focused on desire, or that agape and philia are always free of this element. Nor are some of these words associated only with God, while others are reserved for humanity. In this particular command, however, the word love is always translated from agape. Love in this sense is seen as a virtue, an excellence of character that God has by nature and in which we participate through grace. Such love is primarily interested in the good of the other person, rather than one’s self. It does not attempt to possess or dominate the other. Nor is it limited by the scarcities that are imposed by time and place: one can have a few good friends and fewer lovers, but one can have agape for all.
For Christians, the true archetype of love is found within the inner life of God. According to Jesus’ analogy, the disciples’ relationship to one another should conform to their relationship to Jesus, which in turn finds its ultimate example in the Word’s relationship to the Source. The love among the persons of the trinity helps us to understand what a truly wondrous love this is: concerned about others first; not possessive or subordinating or judgmental - thus allowing genuine space for the other to just be; and superabundant - such that can be offered without reserve. One of the many analogies that St. Augustine offers for helping us to understand the nature of the trinity is that God is the lover, the beloved, and the love that unites them.
The love that structures the inner life of God gives us a sense for the pattern of Christian love. Far from a mere feeling of Euphoria, it is a disciplined habit of care and concern that, like all virtues can only be perfected over one’s lifetime. As Jesus demonstrates - this love is so deeply woven into our lives that we may even find ourselves called to die for it.
Thus when Jesus says “you are my friends if you do what I command you”, he’s not merely offering a useful or pleasurable friendship to those who have done his bidding. He is describing this deep and abiding agape as we then are invited into this kind of relationship with Jesus and thereby God. So part of our goal as Christian’s is to take on God’s own characteristics as our own – and to love one another as God loves us…then, all we will truly need is love (agape)!
Your faithful servant,