Monday, February 18, 2013

Reflection: God is Love

This reflection addresses the readngs for Wednesday after the Feast of Epiphany: 1 John 4:11–18; Mark 6:45–52. It's another short reflection delivered in the context of sung vespers.

Our readings today touch on two of the theological virtues: faith and love (also called caritas or charity in classic texts). Many scripture scholars believe that the author of 1 John is also the author of the Gospel of John, so we shouldn’t be surprised to find themes from the gospel in this letter—in particular, the theme of love. He makes two points that are important to remember.

First, God loves us, so we should love each other, or as Jesus said of the second greatest commandment, we should love our neighbors as ourselves, or as He said in the Sermons in Matthew and Luke that we should love our enemies and pray for their good. If we do not, how can we claim to love God? Dorothy Day, an American Catholic and a possible candidate for sainthood said once that we love God only as much as the person we love the least. So we must go further than merely tolerating others. We have to love them. We don’t have to love what they do—especially if it involves sin, but we have to love the person as Jesus commanded.

Second, John says that there is no fear in love and that perfect love drives out fear. Now, what does this mean? It’s a bit cryptic. What do love and fear have to do with each other? Well, those of you with more experience know that love often means making yourself open to being hurt by the one whom you love. Perfect love is complete giving of self to someone else. Jesus did this, and look at how we repaid Him? We crucified Him! Yet He gave Himself completely.

And that brings us to the second virtue of faith. If faith means trusting that God loves and cares for us, fear shows a lack of faith in God’s love for us. The reading from the Gospel of Mark exemplifies the effect of fear on those whose faith is not yet complete. Jesus means to pass by the disciples who are crossing the Sea of Galilee in a boat. He’s walking on the water, and a wind is blowing against the disciples who are rowing. They see Him, and they are terrified. This is their response to perfect love. “It’s not Jesus but a ghost!” they think, but then He says, “Take courage. It is I. Do not be afraid.” He gets into the boat, and the wind stops. Yet, Mark tells us that their hearts were hardened. They don’t understand that only God could feed the multitudes, and only God—perfect Love—could still the winds.

They can’t see Jesus for who He is, and so they fear Him who is Love. If we are all made in the image and likeness of God, doesn’t that also mean that somewhere in each one of us is a reflection of God as Love? Sometimes it is difficult to see, and we fear because we look at the exteriors: the teacher who seems to always be yelling; the boss who criticizes our efforts; the homeless person with the sign on the corner. But look through the eyes of faith with a heart of love, and maybe you will see some reflection, some small glimmer of that love looking back.
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