WITNESS TO JESUS
I love ice cream. I love sunny days. I love the Seahawks. I love my home. I love God. I love my neighbor.
The way we use the word “love,” it seems that anything and everything that gives me pleasure and enjoyment is love. Have you ever heard anyone say, “I love criticism. I love persecution. I love suffering”? No. We do not love unpleasant things.
But when the Lord speaks of loving widows and orphans, of loving the alien among us, things become more demanding. Widows and orphans are mentioned because they need some extra care that their deceased husbands or parents are no longer around to provide. They may need financial assistance or emotional support. Aliens are mentioned because they can easily be shunned because they are different, and accepting them is going to cost us some trouble or some extra financial support. If we love them, we may be rewarded, but it will not necessarily give us the joy and pleasure we expect with ice cream or beautiful flowers. There is obviously a different kind of love that is meant by love of God and love of neighbor, a love that often costs us something and is not always pleasant.
Why should I love God when I can be a god? Perhaps it is easier and more pleasant for me to decide when life begins and when life should end; to decide for myself what truth is; or to decide what gender I want to be. God’s ways may seem too restrictive, and following them may be very hard and full of struggle. Following God’s ways may lead others to criticize me, to persecute me, or even to want to eliminate me. Is this the kind of love I long for? Yet if I love God above all things, I may have to suffer through many things I do not want. But in the end, I will be deeply fulfilled. If I do not follow God’s ways, I may have fleeting pleasure, but in the end there will be emptiness and despair.
Loving my neighbor may also bring great reward. I might like working in a soup kitchen or teaching at-risk children. I may feel rewarded for doing these kindly acts. But will I feel so wonderful if I love a neighbor who clearly does not love me; a neighbor who criticizes me and gossips about me? Will I be thrilled if I forgive someone who has hurt me deeply? Will I be overcome with gladness if the love I give someone else is taken for granted or even rejected? Probably not! But it is just then that the Gospel calls me to love them all the more.
One of the best things today’s Gospel can do is to challenge us to be more discriminating about the way we use the word “love,” and to reflect more deeply on the fact that love does not always make us feel good immediately, but it is always good for us in the end. But it does demand sacrifice and commitment.
If I let my child do whatever he wants without disciplining him, I may be pleasing him for the moment, but I will not be doing him any favors in the long run. If I look the other way when someone is suffering some kind of unjust discrimination at work, am I truly being loving to the person who is doing the injustice, or would I not be more loving by bringing this problem to the person’s attention, even if it means I will be criticized?
It is genuine love that Jesus calls us to live, and sometimes it is pleasant and sometimes it is very painful. But in the end, unless we are willing to love as God loves us, sticking with us through thick and thin, forgiving us 70-times seven times for our sins and offenses, we will never find true happiness. But if we are willing to love God above all things and learn from his ways of love, we will be more disposed to love our neighbor as ourselves, whether it is easy or difficult to do so. And in the end, we will experience the greatest return of love we can imagine, eternal life!