We sometimes get lulled into this false sense of what true love is; that it somehow means agreeing with and supporting everything about another person. On a broader scale, in our society, it has somehow come to mean that we not only accept everything that others say and do, but we celebrate it, even if we know that it is completely contrary to the Gospels, to our Faith, or even basic, civilized behaviour. Loving someone does not always mean agreeing with what they say or do; in fact, sometimes real, true love means challenging someone to honestly reflect in their heart of hearts , what their relationship to God really means to them. Sometimes it means pointing out hazards in their chosen paths or errors in their assumptions; at the same time it means to be willing to have those same things pointed out to ourselves.
The point is, love is not a still, quiet emotion or emotional state. It is a way of life; a way of living that can be overwhelming and demanding, yet at the same time powerful and life-giving.
Sometimes we can be lulled into a sense that the love of Christ is benign, tepid and weak, like a ‘greeting card with religion’. We may derive this from the personality we attach to the evangelist St. John who records these words of Jesus for us. We think of St. John as ‘the beloved disciple’ as scholars agree he referred to himself in this gospel, and we leave it at that.
‘John, the disciple of love’. A nice, safe, simple picture. No challenges; no confrontation. But reading through the other gospels, and looking carefully at John’s gospel as well, we really see a different picture. John and his brother James are called ‘the Sons of Thunder’ (Mark 3:16) When Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem and certain Samaritans seem hostile to Him, it is John, along with his brother who asks Jesus, “Lord do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them ?”(Luke 9:54) – John, the disciple of ‘love’. John, when he writes of Judas Iscariot does not restrict himself to simply calling Judas ‘the one who betrayed’ Jesus as the other evangelists do. John also calls Judas a liar and a thief (John 12:6). John, along with Peter, after the resurrection argues publicly with the religious authorities (Acts 4:1-22), and preaches with conviction and passion.
No St. John is not some smarmy, self-help manual salesman. He is a disciple who struggles, takes correction, and boldly proclaims his love for Jesus by doing exactly what Jesus commanded him and the other Apostles to do – to proclaim the Gospel to all people.
With Jesus, love is not some fluffy, ‘I’m okay, you’re okay’ syrupy sentimentality. It is a love filled with conviction and purpose, with strength and true meaning. It is a love that, although unconditionally given, speaks of an expectation of those who claim that love as their own.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments”.
In this brief passage from St. John’s gospel, Jesus emphasizes this central point not once, but twice. ‘ The one who has my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves me;”…He doesn’t say, ‘the one who has my commandments and picks and chooses which ones to keep and which ones to discard because they aren’t convenient …’ He means all of His commandments; beginning with complete love of God and complete love of neighbour and moving out from there.
It means to be willing to live out those commandments in their entirety in every aspect of our lives – not just when we gather as a faith community on Sunday, but every day, everywhere and in everything we do. It’s not simply a matter of laying claim to the name of Christian, or carrying a sign as if that in itself is enough, because it’s not.
It means being courageous enough to share that loved commitment, as His disciples, when and where it may cost us the most, in our personal relationships or in our public lives.
It means seriously reflecting on our love for Christ; not only listening to His words, but making them our own and living by them; it means taking His teaching to heart and keeping His commandments, not because we have to, but because we want to.
If we keep His commandments because we desire to, then we know we love Him.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!