Proverbs 22:1-2,8-9, 22-23 Psalm 125 James 2:1-10, 14-17 Mark 7:24-37
Giving Love a Face
When we train people in the art of making disciples, we always start with the Great Commandment. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength…and love your neighbour as yourself. Because if you don’t love God you won’t obey Him and if you don’t love people you won’t help them…it really is that simple.
But what is not simple is the actual love part…what does it mean when we say we love God or when we say we love our neighbours? What does love look like?
Jesus really pushed the envelope when He instructed His followers to love even their enemies! To do good to those who hate us. To bless those who curse us. To forgive 70 X 7. To pray for those who hurt us. And remember, He used the Jews’ most hated neighbours to drive the point home…the Samaritans! The Jews hated the Samaritans, but when Jesus was asked to define who the neighbour was to be loved, He used a Samaritan lovingly caring for a wounded Jew as an example.
The question is: who is your Samaritan? Or who is your wounded Jew, for that matter? Think about that for a while…and then ask yourself whether or not you love them the way God loves you…
Think of the person…or perhaps persons…who have hurt you deeply. Insulted you. Mocked you. Offended you. Stolen from you. Do you have that person in mind? Can you see them in your mind’s eye?
There: You have just given love a face…that is the person you are called to love in the same way that God loves us.
Which, of course, begs the question…how does God love us and how should we love others?
The Scriptures tell us that God demonstrated His love for the world by sending His only beloved Son to die for it…that while we were still His enemies, Christ Jesus gave up His life for us. God’s love is not some abstract philosophy or celestial vibe or divine fuzzy feeling. God’s love has a face…the face of Jesus….the marred, scarred, and battered face of Jesus.
So then…if this is how God loves us, how then should we love?
A Christian ethic based on the word “love” can often be both idealistic and lacking in tangible content. So we have to ask ourselves: Who, in concrete terms, in real terms, is our neighbour, and what will it look like for us to love them?
By placing the command to love where he does, James makes it abundantly clear that our neighbour includes everyone who enters our space…not just those we find attractive or even valuable to us…not just those who look like us, talk like us, act like us…in fact, he goes on to say that it is especially those who are alien to us…who are different…from a different ethnic group, a different socio-economic bracket, a different political party, a different denomination…those are the faces that ought to come to mind when we ask the question, what would it look like if I loved like God loves.
The command to love God and our neighbour ought not to be abstract or lack content. Love…biblical love…it concrete…it is a verb…it is an action…but it is an action that contrary to the love the world speaks about…it is a love that crosses boundaries and overcomes barriers…it is a love that is intentional and indeed it is a love that is costly.
To love in a biblical sense must be according to the Scriptural definition of love…this includes the many commandments to do good to others and to esteem others better than ourselves, but it also includes the big no-no commandments, like, as in the James reading, adultery and murder…but it also includes equally big no-no’s such as gossip, grudges, hatred, discrimination, exploitation, slander, condemning, grumbling against a neighbour…oops…oppressing the poor, orphans, and widows…or, indeed, neglecting to reach out to them and to provide for them emotionally, spiritually, physically, mentally, or financially.
You see, for James, faith and love work together and one without the other is simply not possible. Faith in God and love for God cannot be separated from the way we love our fellow human beings.
Love, for Jesus was always tangible…touchable…physical…concrete. Whether it was simply a touch, or a healing, or an exorcism, or a resurrection…or dying in our place. Jesus’ love had a face…or faces…it had hands and feet and eyes and ears…and it had no boundaries nor did it have barriers…Jews, Gentiles, men, women, children, clean, and unclean…He loved them all.
And the simple basis for loving all is the fact that God made them all. Isn’t that what Proverbs teaches us? The rich and the poor have this in common: God made them all.
And that’s another reason why I love the Eucharist…because here at the Lord’s Table, we are all equal. In fact, the ground at the foot of the cross is level…no one is higher than another…no one is better than another…we are all equally in need of forgiveness and salvation…and it is here that we learn the folly of withholding forgiveness…how can we who have been forgiven so much ever not forgive others?
Indeed, when we gaze on the face of love here at the Holy Table of the Lamb Who bore our sins on His sinless self, we see the face that ought to be ours too…we who claim to follow Him ought to imitate Him and walk just as He walked. Our love must reflect His love…and His love is self-sacrificial love.
Dearest beloved brethren, as you come to feed on the symbols of the supreme sacrificial act of love today, ask the God Who is love to reveal His face to you…His face of love…and ask Him to grant that as you gaze on that perfect love that casts out all fear…that has no boundaries, that knows no impenetrable barriers…ask Him to grant you the ability to love as He loves…
So come…gaze on His wonderful face…gaze on His love demonstrated on the cross for you…bask in the warmth of His love…and leave here determined to let that love flow from the fountain of His love for you to all those who enter your space this day and always.
Johannes W H van der Bijl © 2018-09-05