The Rt Revd Richard Chartres
I John 4.7-21
THE new community which Jesus came to inaugurate is built up by love. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” [I Corinthians 8.1].
But in modern English “love” is a somewhat shop-soiled and sentimentalised word, and it is often confused with an emotional state. In his book A Month of Sundays, the American novelist John Updike says, “Love, you old whore of word — we’ll let you in this once, but only fumigated with quotation marks.”
Love for God is not some emotion which comes and goes but self-giving. God so loved the world that he was generous and gave his very self to us in the person of Jesus Christ [St John 3.16], who is our teacher about authentic love.
There are three obvious marks of Christ-like love.
1. [Luke 10.25-37] Jesus tells the familiar story of the Good Samaritan in response to a question about the limits on love. We should always be at work pushing back the limits on love, and, in a joined-up world, our capacity to show Samaritan-like generosity now extends far beyond our town, but it should nevertheless begin there, and in our own families.
2. The love of the self-giving God is not coercive. In Holy Week, we are shown the tragic extent to which we are free to reject the love of God. Authentic Christian love should not involve the blackmail of “Think how much I have done for you”. Parents have to make the discovery—painful though it is — that “love lies in the letting go”.
3. Authentic love involves a gift of power. Jesus is at the mercy of the crowds, the priests, the Roman soldiers; and he died out of love for those who spend their time passing judgement, inflicting punishment, and building tombs. The hymn My song is love unknown is a wonderful meditation for Holy Week and speaks of the love of Christ as “Love to the loveless shown That they might lovely be”.
I remember confirming a teenage girl who told me that she meant so little to her father that she could never make him angry. She understood that authentic love involves a gift of power, and entails suffering.
All this could add up to a self-lacerating style of life, far from the joy we see in Jesus in the company of his friends, in talking with them and sharing food. The teaching of St Bernard on the Love of God gets the balance right. He says that we all begin life by loving self for self’s sake. We are programmed to survive in this way.
Sometimes we get religion, and treat God as an asset in achieving our own ambitions –- loving God for self’s sake.
Then the way is open for the Copernican revolution, when the centre shifts from ourselves to God himself, and we begin to love God for God’s sake.
But that is not the end of the story because, if we have followed Jesus Christ the human face of God through his Passion in which he loves his enemies into love, we can acquire a love of self for God’s sake.
Love of Self for Self’s sake
Love of God for Self’s sake
Love of God for God’s sake
Love of Self for God’s sake
“Beloved, if God so loved us we ought also to love one another” [I John 4.11].