30th Sunday of the Year Exodus 22:20–26; 1 Thessalonians 1:5c–10; Matthew 22:34–40
Savior heroes The cross is a sign of love, an invitation to love, and a revelation about love.
Years ago there was a movie called Little Lord Fauntleroy. It was about a seven-year-old boy who went to live with his grandfather, who was a wealthy man and had many people working under him. The old man was basically selfish and mean. But the little boy idolized him so much that he couldn’t see this. He thought his grandfather was generous and kind. Over and over he would say to him, Grandfather! How people must love you! I’ll bet they love you almost as much as I do.
To make a long story short, the little boy’s love gradually softens the old man’s heart, and he becomes the kind of person his grandson thinks him to be.
This story is like a parable of Jesus. It shows how his love for us can change us and give us the power to become the kind of loving people he sees we can be.
Love is at the heart of Jesus’ teaching and his life. And of all the deeds in Jesus’ life, none is more expressive of his love than the crucifixion.
What makes the crucifixion such an eloquent testimony of Jesus’ love?
First, the crucifixion acts as a dramatic sign of Jesus’ great love for us. The greatest love a person can have for his friends, said Jesus, is to give his life for them. John 15:13
I’m awfully glad Jesus gave us that great sign. We need to know that we are lovable.
For if we don’t see ourselves as lovable, we can’t love others.
Why can’t we love if we don’t see ourselves as lovable? For the simple reason that love is a self-gift. And if we don’t see ourselves as lovable and therefore valuable we won’t give ourselves to another. After all, nobody gives garbage to someone they admire deeply.
So the first thing the crucifixion does is to act as a sign of Jesus’ love for us. It tells us that we are valuable and lovable. We are so valuable and so lovable that Jesus gave his own life for us.
Second, besides being a sign of love, the crucifixion is also an invitation to love. It says in a visual way what Jesus said so often in a verbal way: Love one another, just as I love you. John 15:12
I’m awfully glad Jesus gave us that invitation. For it tells us that Jesus considers our love to be valuable. He teaches us that we can help others by our love, just as he helped us by his love.
Teachers will tell you that the self-esteem of young people takes a great leap forward when they discover their love is valuable.
You can see a dramatic change when a student gets involved in a service program tutoring younger students, reading to the blind, or visiting the elderly. They discover, often for the first time, that they have value that they can help others.
So the second thing the crucifixion does is to invite us to love others as Jesus loves us. It helps us discover that our love is valuable. We can help others by loving them.
Third, besides being a sign of love and an invitation to love, the crucifixion is also a revelation about love. It tells us that love entails suffering.
I’m awfully glad Jesus revealed this to us. It counters the lie that is perpetuated each day on TV, namely, that saving people can be done without personal cost to one’s self.
The TV doctor heals the sick without suffering himself. The TV lawyer protects the exploited without getting hurt himself. The police officer saves the brutalized child without being brutalized himself.
The shining armor of these TV savior heroes is only dirtied; it is never dented or damaged.
Jesus shows us how unreal this picture is. He shows us that loving people and saving them entail suffering.
It’s painful to be patient when a loved one shouts at us. It’s painful to be forgiving, like the father of the prodigal son, and welcome back home a wayward child. It’s painful to be humble, like the son in the same story, and admit that we were wrong.
Sometimes I think that just as we make it a law that certain food products must be stamped with the words This product may be harmful to your health, so we should make it a law that marriage licenses must be stamped with the words Love entails suffering.
This leads to a final point. It is this: We should rejoice when we feel the suffering involved in love.
We should rejoice when we feel the pain of having to be patient with the same person about the same thing, day in and day out. We should rejoice when we feel the pain of having to swallow our pride when passed up for an honor or a promotion.
Why do we say such an incredible thing like that?
Arthur Godfrey, the early TV star, has given us a beautiful explanation in an article that appeared in The Guideposts Treasury of Faith (1970). On the wall of his office Godfrey used to keep a sign that read: The fire, Lord, not the scrap heap.
He said the sign reminded him of a story about a blacksmith who suffered much illness but still maintained a strong faith in God. When an unbeliever asked the blacksmith how he could keep trusting God in spite of his illness, he replied:
When I make a tool, I take a piece of iron and put it into the fire. Then I strike it on the anvil to see if it can take temper. If it does, I can make a useful article out of it. If not, I toss it on the scrap heap.
That brings us back to our point. When we suffer because of love, we can rejoice because we know that God is using us.
In brief, then, the crucifixion of Jesus is a sign that Jesus loves us. it is an invitation to love others. And it is a revelation about love: that love entails suffering.
Let’s close with a prayer:
Lord, teach us to love you, as you deserve; teach us to love others, as you love us; teach us to love, even when it hurts to love.
For it is in loving that we give glory to you. It is in loving that we give happiness to others. And it is in loving that we find meaning in our own lives. M.L.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Series II 30th Sunday of the Year Exodus 22:20–26; 1 Thessalonians 1:5c–10; Matthew 22:34–40
Love’s three levels Love admits of three levels: the essence of love, the logic of love, and the folly of love.
The Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof centers around Tevye, the father of a poor Jewish family in Russia. Tevye and his wife, Golde, have five daughters.
Their eldest daughter falls in love with a young tailor. This pains Tevye and Golde, because Jewish tradition specified that all Jewish marriages should be arranged by a matchmaker. But after a struggle with their consciences, Tevye and Golde allow their daughter to marry the tailor.
Next, their second daughter, Hodel, falls in love with a young man named Perchik. The situation is complicated because Perchik has abandoned his Jewish faith. After a struggle with his conscience, Tevye accepts the situation. But Golde cannot accept it.
To try to help her see her way clear to do so, Tevye says to his wife, “Perchik’s a good man, Golde. He is a little crazy, but I like him. And what is more, Hodel likes him. She loves him.” (paraphrased)
Then, with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, Tevye says to his wife, “Golde, do you love me?”
Golde says, “Do I love you? For all these years, I’ve cleaned your house, cooked your meals, and washed your clothes. Do I love you?”
But Golde’s response doesn’t satisfy Tevye. Again, he asks her, “But, Golde, do you love me?”
Again, Golde replies, “Do I love you? For all these years, I’ve walked with you, talked with you, starved with you, slept with you. Do I love you? If that’s not love, what is?” (paraphrased) That dialogue between Golde and Tevye makes a fitting introduction to today’s gospel. For in today’s gospel, Jesus talks about love and the kind of love we should have for God and for one another. Jesus says:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. . . . Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
When Jesus says, “Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart,” he implies that there are various levels of love.
The first level of love is the minimal level. It’s sometimes called the essence of love. It’s the kind of love Golde talks about with Tevye.
Simply put, the first level of love consists in mutual sharing and fidelity. This mutual sharing and fidelity is the very essence of love. Without it there is no genuine love. The second level of love is sometimes called the logic of love. It’s a higher level.
At this level the lover is not content with mutual sharing and mutual fidelity. At this level the lover wants to do more. The lover searches for ways to surprise and to please the beloved.
This is what we mean by the logic of love. It is never satisfied with the bare minimum. It always wants to do more.
The third level of love is called the folly of love. It is the most perfect love there is.
At this level the lover does what other people consider madness. At this level the lover does what ordinary people cannot understand.
Consider the example of Dr. Ed Tenant and his wife, June, of Sterling, Colorado. They were childless. When they tried to adopt children, they found that healthy children were scarce.
So they talked the matter over and decided to adopt a child whom the placement agency classified as “unplaceable.” The child was severely crippled and could not walk.
The Tenants’ experience with this child led them to adopt other “unplaceable” children. They now have 12 such children.
To some people, what the Tenants have done is “madness.” To the Tenants it’s simply an expression of love. It’s simply responding to Jesus’ invitation to love with all their heart, with all their soul, and with all their mind.
The most perfect example of this third level of love is Jesus himself. Speaking of Jesus’ love, Paul says:
[Jesus] always had the nature of God. . . . [H]e gave up all he had. . . . He was humble and walked the path of obedience all the way to death—his death on the cross. Philippians 2:6–8
To people who do not love with all their heart, with all their soul, and with all their mind, Jesus’ love is sheer madness. It’s utter folly. In brief, then, there are three levels of love.
The first level is the essence of love. It consists in mutual sharing and fidelity. Without it there is no true love.
The second level is the logic of love. It’s not content with the basic minimum. It always wants to do more and more.
Finally, there is the folly of love. It’s the kind of love that Jesus had for us and invites us to strive to have for one another.
Speaking of this highest form of love, Jesus says, “The greatest love you can have for your friends is to give your life for them.” John 15:13 Most of us love most of the time at the first level. We share with one another and are faithful to one another.
And most of us have moments in our lives when we love at the second level. We go out of our way to please or to surprise those we love.
And, finally, many of us have moments in our lives when we love at the third level. We love in a way that makes nonloving people think we are mad.
In today’s gospel, Jesus exhorts us to strive more and more to love as he did not in a minimal way, but in a perfect way: with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind.
It’s this kind of love that is capable of transforming not only those we love but also ourselves and the world we live in.
Series III 30th Sunday of the Year Exodus 22:20–26; 1 Thessalonians 1:5c–10; Matthew 22:34–40
Love Admits of three different levels. Love the Lord your God with all your heart . . . This is the greatest commandment. The second is . . . Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Matthew 22:37–39
Dan Begley boarded his plane in Seattle, hoping to get a lot of work done before it landed in Dallas.
Just then, a mother and three little boys got on. You guessed it: the two older ones took the seats next to him. And the mother and a four-year-old sat directly behind him.
Once the plane was airborne, the two boys began to argue. They also turned around every ten minutes to ask their mother, “Where are we now?”
Dan’s irritation rose to the danger level. But a strange inner voice said, “Love these kids as if they were your own.”
So Dan set aside his planned work, got out the in-flight magazine, turned to the flight map, and showed the two boys the route from Seattle to Dallas.
He also divided the route into 15-minute lengths so that they could see exactly where they were at any given moment.
Finally, Dan went on to explain to them a lot of interesting things about planes. As the aircraft touched down in Dallas, Dan happened to mention their father. A short silence ensued. Then one of the boys said softly, “He died.We just buried him in Seattle.”
When they entered the terminal, the two boys thanked Dan warmly. Dan fought back tears and said, “And I thank you for what you’ve just taught me.”
This moving story puts flesh and blood on Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest commandment. The second is like to it . . . “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
Jesus’ words “Love the Lord with all your heart” rightly imply that there are degrees or levels of love. The first is called the “essence of love.” It involves two things.
First, the lover stays faithful and, second, the lover won’t offend the other. Without this faithfulness and kindness there is no genuine love.
The second level is called the “logic of love.” It seeks to do more than the bare minimum. It goes an important step further. It doesn’t just remain faithful and kind. It seeks to please the other in every way possible.
The third and final level of love is called the “folly of love.” This love exceeds all reason.
It does what the nonlover can neither fathom nor understand.
An example of it is a Colorado doctor and his wife, who over a ten-year period adopted 12 special children. They ranged from being blind to being confined to a wheelchair.
In the eyes of their friends and neighbors, this was folly and madness.
To the doctor and his wife, who could not have children of their own, it was simply responding to an inner voice to love others as they loved themselves.
This brings our focus back to all of us in this Church. Today’s Gospel invites us to ask the all-important question:
At what level of love are we? Are we at the first level, which is called the “essence of love?” Are we content to remain simply faithful and kind?
Or are we at the second level, which is called the “logic of love?” Are we impatient to please and to help the beloved in every way possible?
Or are we at the third level, which is called the “folly of love” Do we love to the point where others consider us mad or foolish?
Most of us love much of the time at the first level. We are faithful and kind to one another.
And many of us, at times in our lives, love at the second level. We seek to please and to help the other as much as possible.
Some of us, at rare moments in our lives, love at the third level. We love in such a way that makes nonloving people scratch their heads and wonder about us.
I n today’s Gospel Jesus exhorts us to strive more and more to love as he did not in a minimal way, but in a maximal way with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind.
It is this kind of love that has the power to transform, not only those we love, but also ourselves, as it did for Dan Begley on the plane.
Let’s conclude with a familiar poem. It was written by the British writer Leigh Hunt and serves as a kind of meditation on our love of neighbor and our love of God.
It’s entitled “Abou Ben Adhem and the Angel.” It reads:
Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase) Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace. And saw, within the moonlight in his room, Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom, An Angel writing in a book of gold Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold, And to the presence in the room he said, “What writest thou?” The vision raised its head, And with a look made of all sweet accord, Answered, “The names of those who love the Lord.” “And is mine one?” said Abou. “Nay, not so,” Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low, But cheerily still; and said, “I pray thee, then, “Write me as one that loves his fellow-men.”
The Angel wrote and vanished. The next night It came again, with a great wakening light, And showed the names whom love of God had blessed, And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.