Spirituality for Today – February 2008 – Volume 12, Issue 7

Loving As Jesus Loved – What a Challenge

By Rev. Msgr. Frank Wissel

Photo of a stature of Christ against a bright blue skyIn this short article I want to focus our attention on one sentence in the Gospel that says, "This is my commandment, Love one another as I have loved you." Those are the words of Jesus, spoken to his disciples on the night before he died. In this one brief statement, he captured the whole of Christian theology and ethics. "Love one another" – which is the entire ethical program of Christ. "As I have loved you." If we follow that thought far enough, we will be exploring the entire expanse of Christian theology.

The message of the church included both. If Jesus had simply said, "Love one another," that would have been a noble message. But he would have said nothing more than all the great religions have said. Even the secular community says the same. I am sure you remember the popular song from many years ago that said, "What the world needs now is love, sweet love. That's the only thing there is just too little of."

On the other hand, if he had spoken only of God's love for us, that would have been comforting. But it could degenerate into selfishness and egoism. The church might begin to think of itself as the chosen few, while caring nothing for its moral and ethical responsibilities.

If I were forced to choose between ethics without theology, or theology without ethics, I would choose the former every time. Fortunately, we do not have to make that choice. Christianity is a great theology that embodies a great ethical imperative. It speaks of God's love as revealed in Christ. Then it calls upon all people to exercise that same kind of love. By the simplest definition, a Christian is a person who loves as Jesus loved.

The first thing that it means is to love inclusively. Jesus left nobody out. He loved the young. Some of our memories of him include children. He held them in his arms. He laid his hands upon their heads and blessed them. He warned anyone who would harm a child that it would be better to have a millstone tied around their neck and be cast into the depths of the sea.

He also loved the old. Some of his hardest words were addressed to those who failed to care for their elderly parents. He loved the poor. And his highest praise was reserved for an impoverished widow, who dropped her last two pennies into the temple treasury.

He also loved the rich. Remember in the city of Jericho, he befriended a wealthy man named Zaccheus, who had been ostracized by his entire community?

He loved immoral people. Who could ever forget the day when he came to the defense of an adulterous woman? He also loved those who had kept their lives clean and respectable. There knelt in his presence a young man who had observed the moral law since his childhood. And the Gospel tells us that "Jesus looked upon him with love." He loved the members of his own race and nation. Almost all of his time and energy were devoted to the Jewish people. He also loved foreigners. The appeal of a Roman solider with a desperately sick servant claimed his attention, and the soldier's faith earned his praise.

This idea of an all-inclusive love seems so reasonable when we talk about it in church. The challenge starts when we try to apply it to our own lives. Peter had been with Jesus throughout most of his public ministry. He had seen him love all kinds of people. In spite of this, Peter still held to his lifelong belief that Jews had more favor with God than any other race or nation. He could hardly believe it when three messengers invited him to preach the Gospel in the home of a gentile named Cornelius.

Arriving at that home, Peter said, "I begin to see that God shows no partiality." Notice his term "I begin to see." It was a start, but Peter still had a long way to go, and so do we. Loving as Jesus loved means to love inclusively, with no one left out.

It also means to love practically. Five times in the Gospel Jesus used the words, "command" or "commandment." That seems strange to us the theme of his lesson is love. He talked about God's love for him, his love for his disciples, and his disciples love for one another. But mingled with all of this is the concept of obedience, of keeping a commandment. How can that be? The two ideas seem unrelated. In our usual pattern of thinking, obedience is a deliberate act of the will, and love is a spontaneous response of the heart. But it is obvious that Jesus did not think this way.

And finally, to love as Jesus loved is to love joyfully. This is a most important truth because his love would be incomplete without joy. It is true that love is a duty to be done, but it is most true when love is not only a duty to be done, but a privilege to be enjoyed. At the end we must remember the following words of Jesus when he said, "All this I tell you that my joy may be yours, and that your joy may be complete." What a challenge.