A group of experts, children from 4 to 8 years old, was asked the question, “What does love mean?” Here are their answers: “Love is when Mommy gives Daddy the best piece of chicken.” Elaine - age 5. “I know my older sister loves me because she gives me all her old clothes and has to go out and buy new ones.” Lauren – age 4. “Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.” Bobby – age 7. “Love is when Mommy sees Daddy on the toilet and she doesn’t think it’s gross.” Mark – age 6.
Love can be defined, described and expressed in so many ways. In our Christian tradition, we know and believe that God is love. Jesus is the best definition, the greatest description and the finest expression of love. And so, when he responds to the scholar of the law’s question about the greatest commandment, He is actually presenting Himself as the Answer.
Love God above all else. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. We have heard that said and expressed a million times. In following that command, we are like the scholar of the law when we question sometimes the choice whom to love and how to love.
Love shone in a dark cave in Bethlehem. And so we know that loving will always have a rough beginning. Love was manifested through a crucified Savior on Calvary. And so we know that loving will always have a sacrificial meaning. But love rose from a borrowed tomb on Easter day. And so we know that love will always have its reward in life everlasting.
It is quite intangible to show our love for God and so He gave us a neighbor to love. The idea is that when we help a neighbor, we help God. When we love a neighbor, we love God. A poem put it this way, "I sought my soul, and the soul I could not see. I sought my God and God eluded me - I sought my neighbor and found all three.”
This is where the difficulty in loving arises. We cannot just love a stranger, a foreigner or an illegal immigrant. We cannot just love a murderer, terrorist, abortionist or anybody who is against what we believe and profess. We cannot just love our enemies.
That is why unlike the scholar of the law, our question about the greatest commandment is not to test God but to seek his help and strength. Alone we feel helpless. We need one another. We need to be neighbors to each other because we are made according to God’s own image.
The Book of Genesis recounts how God pronounced everything to be good until he saw Adam. He said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” And so, he created Eve to be his partner. We are not designed in seclusion or formed in desolation. Rather, we are called to be part of a family. We are meant to be companions on the journey. We are called to be brothers and sisters under one Father.
It is when we detach ourselves from the needs of our neighbor that goodness itself diminishes its value. How do we respond to the needs of people we love? How do we respond to the needs of our own? What do we share?
The late author Leo Buscaglia once talked about a contest he was asked to judge. The purpose of the contest was to find the most caring child. The winner was a four year old child whose next door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife. Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman’s yard, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there. When his Mother asked what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said, “Nothing, I just helped him cry.”
It is when we fail to love that we find ourselves lonely and alone. Loneliness is the first thing that God said was not good. From loneliness come depression, jealousy, envy, hatred and indifference. From loneliness comes sin. Sin is a failure in love. It is turning our backs on God. And when we turn away from Him who is the Light, we face our shadows of pain and isolation.
God loves us because He loves everything and everyone He made. Dennis the Menace wisely said in one of the cartoon strips after his neighbor gave him a candy, "She gives me candy not because I'm nice but because she's nice.” God is not just nice. He is more than that.
Even when we do not feel lovable, even when nobody loves us, even when we are abandoned or neglected, forsaken or ignored, God will continually love us, regardless of whatever wrong, whatever sin or whatever neglect we ever did. God will always love us because He is mindful of the meaning of forever. And God will always love us because of the finest expression, the greatest description and the best definition of love, Jesus the Christ.
23 October 2011