Monday, February 18, 2019

Love For Love's Sake

Yesterday, in Luke 6:17-26, we heard Jesus begin his Sermon on the Plain by encouraging the poor, the hungry, and the weeping that the time of their plenty will come, and we heard him warn the rich, the full, and the happy that they've already received their consolation. It seems that you can either be rich in heaven or on earth but not both. This Sunday, in Luke 6:27-38, we will hear Jesus continue his sermon with a different message that follows the same logic: "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return." Jesus seems to be asking whether we want to reap the benefits of loving and lending in this life or the next because we can't have both.

Why do we love other people? Do we love them because we want to be loved in return? Do we love them simply because we do? Do we lend someone money because we want to borrow from them in the future? Or is the practice of lending and borrowing with a close friend a reflection of a relationship that blurs the lines of possession? Do we do good toward those who treat us similarly in a gesture of mandated reciprocation, or do we act kindly toward those who aren't our kin? I suppose that it depends.

For the purpose of this blog post, I want to leave the lending and good-doing behind and focus on love. Why do we love the people we love? We may not love them with the calculated purpose of receiving love back, but we typically love those who share love with us. We love our children even before they know what love is, but we are fostering in them a relationship that we anticipate will produce reciprocal love. We love our spouses not only when they are delightful, helpful, attentive people, but we love them for better or for worse. Still, the marital relationship is typically one of reciprocal love. Friends, coworkers, distant relatives, even strangers on the street--when we offer them love, we may not do so strictly because we expect something in return, but our love of them opens the path to something in return. Jesus asks, "What credit is that to you?"

Jesus urges us to love those who will not or cannot love us back. To do that, Jesus singles out our enemies: "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you." Jesus asks us to love those from whom we receive no earthly benefit. Why? For love's sake. "Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." Notice that the Most High is kind not to those who love for no reason at all. God is kind to the ungrateful. We are not asked to love for the sake of receiving our heavenly Father's esteem. We are asked to love for love's sake because that's how God loves us. Our reward, therefore, is not a prize in heaven but the opportunity to know and experience God's love.

We love to know love. We love those who do not love us back to know the love that God has for us--a love that is not reciprocal in any way, a love that loves for love's sake. There is no more powerful force in the universe than love like that.

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