The Challenge of Love
How do we know that we are truly good Christians? Jesus gives us the best criterion today. That criterion is love. “I give you a new commandment:”He says, “love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.This is how all will know that you are my disciples,if you have love for one another.”We know that we are good Christians if we have love for others.
Hold on, though….
What, exactly, is this “love” that Jesus is talking about? I “love” Star Wars. I “love” going to the beach. I love Pizza John’s pizza. In these cases, I am happy that they exist and I enjoy having them as a big part of my life. Is that what Jesus means when He says “love”?
Look at what He says again: “As I have loved you, so you should love one another.” We have the criterion, and it isn’t an easy one, for being considered a good Christian. It is love; but it is that specifically Christ-like love that Jesus showed over and over again, and ultimately that He showed when He offered His life as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. This love is Christian love – it’s what is known as “agape”or charity: love that suffers; love that sacrifices; love that totally gives of itself.
Is that the kind of love that we have for others? And I don’t mean “others” in general – faceless, nameless people whom we have never met. Do we have that kind of love for the kids at intersections with spray bottles and squeegees? Do we have that kind of love for the woman speaking Spanish in the restaurant booth next to us? Do we have that kind of love for the neighbor who always yells at our kids for playing on her lawn?
Do we have that kind of love for people who are different from us? Are we filled with self-sacrificial love for welfare recipients, asylum-seekers, refugees, Muslims, single mothers, gay people, and men in prison? I would do anything for my mother; but for the girl who broke my heart and spread lies about me … not so much, huh? This is the challenge of discipleship. It is the challenge of love.
Jesus is speaking to His disciples today in the context of the Last Supper. In John’s Gospel, this is a long discourse in which Christ is sharing His parting teachings with the Apostles, and He is underscoring the meaning of what He has given them in the Eucharist. This is the same Eucharist that you and I share every time we come here. And Jesus continues to teach us, too, what this shared Gift means.
For those who share in the Blessed Sacrament, which is the memorial of Christ’s ultimate act of self-giving love, it is a call to conform our lives to that same type of love. This is not “good-enough” love; it is perfect – perfect charity. That is how people will know that we are truly disciples of Jesus Christ – not that we are “okay” or “trying our best”, but rather that we are good. “This is how all will know that you are my disciples,if you have love for one another.”
The good news is that this love begins here – with the love we have for one another. In this assembly, as we sacrifice for each other out of love for them and for Jesus, we are formed as people who love like Christ. And that is the best definition of a Christian, isn’t it: someone who loves like Christ.
St. Francis of Assisi has a wonderful prayer before the Crucifix that can help us to be shaped into people who love like Jesus, so I will end with this prayer:
Most High, glorious God,
enlighten the darkness of my heart
and give metrue faith, certain hope, and perfect charity,
sense and knowledge, Lord,
that I may carry outYour holy and true command.