Reflections by Jerry Webber

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

When Is "Love" Love?

The daily reading for today is from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The passage, Matthew 5:43 – 48, says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

It may be the most challenging passage in the Christian Scriptures. Those outside a Christian framework notice when professed Christians act in ways that are hateful or resentful or counter to the words of Jesus.

I lived many years in a religious climate that often said things like, “I love you, but I do not like you” . . . or said, “I love you,” but quietly implied, “I’d love you more if you’d change your behavior” . . . or that communicated, “I know I’m supposed to love people – even enemies and rivals and those who threaten me – but I’m human and I cannot do that, so I won’t even try.”

So basically I learned lip-service to love, while resigning myself to live far beneath the invitation to live a loving life.

Love loves what is without trying to change it or manipulate it. Love is not invested in making the object “love-able” (as if that could happen anyway!). Love is not dependent on a love-able object or person. Rather, love arises from the inner core, from the depths of the lover.

To paraphrase the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, love trusts what is . . . love stays with what is . . . love is not continually manipulating and controlling, trying to get someone else to conform to who I am or to what I think should be the shape of reality . . . love bears with what is . . . love does not try to align everything “right” in the outside world, thinking that will put things right in the inner world.

Love bears long with what is . . . love believes long with what is . . . love hopes long with what is . . . love endures long with what is.

I notice today that love leaves for no exceptions and no escape-clauses. Thus, love leaves no room to say, “I will love if” or “I will love when.” Love loves what is.

This kind of love is not based on contingency or what changes in the outer world, but on an inner state.

And for the people or groups that I don’t want to love, the ones I want to change before I give myself to them in love, there is no escape-clause, no exception, no path out of love. Even for enemies, rivals, those with whom I disagree, and those who threaten my security, Jesus says, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who do harm to you.”

If I excuse myself from loving others because I am a weak human being – and it is the human condition to be self-serving and self-protecting – and if because of my human condition I want to hang onto my resentments and want to go on hating enemies and wishing harm on those who are different than I am, then at least let me make that statement of my human weakness as a confession of my sinfulness and my waywardness. Let me say that I am a weak human being in all humility . . . and not as a statement of pride, not as a prelude to enjoin war and hatred and venom on my enemies.

In other words, if I fall back on my fallen human condition, then I had best do so in humility and repentance, not in pride, anger, and venom toward those who are different from me. My inability to love should be a confession of my sinfulness, not an excuse to perpetuate hatred.

“Loving enemies . . . praying for those who persecute you” . . . this is a way counter to basic human learning, but this is the radical way of love, the radical way walked by Jesus, the Trailblazer. This is the new framework, the new construct – called the Kingdom of God – to which I (and you) am invited, in Jesus’ name.

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