September 30, 2018
All the Commandments are summarized in one word: love. Love sounds good, but it’s kind of squishy. Is it a feeling? Do you really “fall into” it? Writing in Psychology Today, Dr. Deborah Anapol says, “Love is a force of nature…. Love is bigger than you are. You can invite love, but you cannot dictate how, when, and where love expresses itself” (“What Is Love, and What Isn’t?”).
That is the polar opposite of how God defines love. Love is no force, but an attitude that generates action.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Cor 13:4–7 NIV11)
This kind of love transcends feelings; it gives even when the feeling is absent. All of the Commandments, Jesus tells us today, are summarized by a life directed outwards – a life directed to God and neighbor. “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
That law damns us, if we are honest about our own priorities. And ever-increasing tribalism can make us despair for our future, our country, our church. Not long after today’s Gospel reading, Jesus describes the end of the world like this: “Because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold” (Mt. 24:12).
Love growing cold describes the end of the world – and it describes our world. Perhaps it even describes your own heart today. We are living in the end times; the end times began when Jesus ascended into heaven. Everything from that point to the Day of Judgment is one last age of this world. But Jesus doesn’t call us to despair. He promises to be with us even to the close of this age.
There’s a connection between the two parts of today’s Gospel reading. It seems like two very different things; a question about the Law, and then a question about the Christ. But they are intimately connected. Because this is a world without love, Love Himself enters the world.
God doesn’t just love the world from afar. He joins Himself to His loveless creation.
That’s the heart of the unanswered question in the Gospel. “What do you think about the Christ?” Jesus asks; “Whose Son is He?” They said to Him, “The Son of David.” David was the great King of Israel to whom was promised a son who would be an everlasting king. But the father is greater than the son. So how, Jesus asks, can David’s son also be David’s Lord?
Those interrogating Jesus cannot answer. The climax of the Gospel reveals the answer: When unbelieving Thomas is confronted with the risen Jesus, who still bears scars on His hands and side, he confesses, “My Lord and my God!” That’s who Jesus is: God in the flesh. True God, begotten of the Father from all eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
But why? Because He yet loves this world whose love has grown cold. The Bridegroom bears the hatred and animosity of His bride, yet He loves her to the end, to the Telos, to the completion of what it means to be human. For the God who is love made us also to love.
Is that what you see in yourself? Or has your love also grown cold? God’s Word speaks about lust and pride; these are disordered forms of love. God made us with desires, but they are now twisted and corrupt, so we love ourselves above all things. This is the devil’s great lie, in getting us to lust after what is transient instead of loving what is permanent. We love a mirage. Grasping for what we desire, we end up with a hand full of ashes, soon scattered by the wind. The lust leaves us empty, and we can only say with Solomon, “Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless.”
Jesus, incarnate Love, doesn’t leave us there. For this reason St. John says,
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. [1 John 2:15-17]
That will of God for you is to love what He has given you to love. So you do not need to worry about whether or not you are “in love” as the world counts it. You love your neighbor. Period. Full stop.
Who is your neighbor? It is your wife, your husband, your child, your brother, even the person who is persecuting you. That’s what God has given you to do.
So do not despair. Love may be growing cold, but God is faithful. The Father will sustain you to the end. Christ loved you to the end. The Holy Spirit will grow love in you to the end. And in the end, you will find it is not the end. For this Jesus, risen from the dead, says, “Behold, I am making all things new.” +INJ+