Choose Love

Jesus said to his disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) In our Gospel reading for this weekend, Jesus continues his farewell speech to the disciples. So, too, does his message of love continue. What does he refer to when he instructs his followers to keep his commandments? Unlike in Matthew, with its many commands about turning cheeks and rendering to Caesar, in John, Jesus gives just one commandment; “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35). Then, again, in the chapter which follows ours, he reiterates the vital importance of love; “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12-13).

What does this mean for us, then? And what exactly does it mean to be commanded to love, especially in a world that seems ever more challenged by hate and discord? It can be even more difficult when those within our own families and social circles become hard to love, or when our own ability to love fully is compromised in some way.

Thank goodness for all of us, Jesus, having been fully human as well as fully divine, is aware of this. There lies the real hope of this passage. Jesus promises that we will have help in the Holy Spirit. The most reassuring message is Jesus’s emphasis on the intimate unity of Jesus, God, the Spirit and the believer. The trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is ultimate and pure love. When Jesus says to the disciples, “You will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you,” he reveals our place in that trinitarian love, each one of us, even the most difficult to love among us.

Every day we are faced with countless people and situations which demand we make choices: decisions about how to respond, what to do with our emotional reactions, how to confront or ignore the behaviors and choices of others. These are often the seemingly unimportant minutia events of our daily lives, but they matter. More specifically, the amount of love in those choices matters. St. Theresa of Calcutta, Mother Theresa in her lifetime, said, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” Imagine how our lives and relationships could change, if every choice we made was ordered toward love!

When the children aren’t listening, when you’ve said, “put on your shoes” at least six times and you’re already late, there’s a choice. We choose poorly sometimes, simply getting louder and allowing ourselves to be angrier with each repetition. We’ve also chosen more loving responses. It won’t surprise anyone to hear that the latter always creates peace.

The same can be said for marriage. The work of married life is a series of choices, some made over and over again, day in and day out, that appear small but are, in fact, fundamental. This is especially true when our spouses don’t live up to our expectations, particularly in how they respond to us in a given situation. Despite the fact that our initial emotional response is involuntary, the response with which we follow it is a choice. And, at its most basic, it is a choice to love or not to love. It is also perfectly human to be tempted to respond in kind. Why act with love when your spouse hasn’t done so? Jesus tells us twice, once in John 13 and again in John 15, that his commandment is that we should love, not as those we encounter love, but as he loves. Jesus loves us without hesitation, without condition, without failure, despite our own reactions to him and within the world. We can’t control the choices of those around us or how much love is in their decisions, but we can control our own. When this becomes difficult to do on our own, we can find comfort in this assurance of our place in the perfect love of the trinity. If we are in Jesus, and Jesus is in us, and Jesus is in the Father, then we have it in us to love as he loves us. We may find it nearly impossible to love when we feel we’re being treated poorly, but it is not so for God. We can rely on that when ordering our choices.

We can develop this ability to answer with love. We can take some time at the end of the day to ask ourselves, “When have I acted with love today? When have I acted in ways that are not loving? And, in those moments, how could my choices have been made with love?” Be assured that it is within us to always respond with love. “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

Lisa Amos

Pastoral Associate

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