October 26, 2014 –– 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Exodus 22:20–26 / 1 Thessalonians 1:5c–10 / Matthew 22:34–40
A Longing for Love
A broad look at pop music over the years offers an excellent illustration of the many ways love is perceived. When I’m with my Dad we revisit our Southern-country roots by listening to Bluegrass music. Last week I heard one of those country songs about “love” that ooze with its own unique mode of expression; the song was bemoaning that love doesn’t die naturally, “it was honkey-tonked to death”.
As I thought about that, there is a sense in which it’s true. We have attempted to find a sure way to love through romance, sentimentality, and sexuality. Pop songs about love––whether country, rock, rap, easy listening, or any other genre––are full of it. It also seems a majority of the songs are full of disappointment, frustration, and pain. Our world is filled with a longing for love that is not easily satisfied.
The theme of love is never far away because we were made for love. The Beatles got it right when they sang All You Need Is Love, but the crucial truth was left hanging. What is love?
On the surface, the same thing might be said about Jesus giving the The Great Commandment: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart…. What is “love”? Certainly “love” is personal, yet love is not is selfish. When “love” is self-focused, the result is––as I said above–– disappointment, frustration, and pain.
Of course, if we truly listen to Jesus we are given the most important orientation from the start: love the Lord your God…. This sets the stage for the biggest decision any of us can make. Every person on earth has to make a choice: Will you give yourself to loving God? Or, will you embrace the pattern of loving yourself?
There is a brokenness in our world that is set in default mode for seeking fulfillment through self-love. Another pop song offered these words: You see, ya can't please everyone, so ya got to please yourself. We are fed the lie that “love is all about me”––getting my desires fulfilled.
A God-focused love is totally different. Choosing to love God is to make the choice not to focus on one’s self. This seems like the opposite of happiness. It looks like a sure path to misery. Why does Jesus say the greatest commandment is to love God?
First, our longings for love are rooted in God. Scripture says God is love (1 Jn 4:16). It should be apparent that the One who is love and the One who made us for love is the One who will fulfill our longing for love.
Second, God himself shows us what love is really like (and it’s the opposite of selfishly trying to have one’s own way). Jesus told his disciples: Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (Jn 15:13). And then Jesus did just that–– This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and gave his Son…. (1 Jn 4:10).
This is why love is most of all about God and our neighbor. When we try to make “love” all about ourselves, we destroy both love and ourselves. The country song is too often right: love gets “honkey-tonked to death”, at least in the lives of those who selfishly try to find it on their own terms.
One of the best ways to love God is to love our neighbor. This is the context of the Exodus reading––loving God means something, and it shows in the way we treat others. There is an incredible joy that both goes deep inside us and stays with us for a long time when we choose to do something truly good for someone else, especially when it costs us something. Giving and loving are inseparable.
Years ago I heard a retreat speaker ask a question that the Holy Spirit has used to draw me and change me again and again: “What are you sacrificing for the redemption of the world?” When we love ourselves most, we do not want to hear the word “sacrifice”. When we are seeking to love God above everything else, sacrifice becomes a way of life. St Catherine of Siena once noted: “The devils are afraid to get near a soul on fire with divine charity.”
We are all hungry for love. Let’s be people who learn more and more to love God and our neighbor, and to turn loose of the things we think we “have to have” to be happy. I offer a practical assignment: Go into each day asking yourself this double-sided question: Am I going to do what I want to do, or am I going to do what God wants me to do as I follow Jesus?” Love the Lord your God with all your heart….
This is how our longing for love will be nourished. Then we will grow in the kind of love that both satisfies our deepest hunger and helps others see Jesus (see 1 Thess 1:7,8).