(31st death anniversary of Fr. Michael Rodrigo falls on November 10: Gospel reading for Sunday, November 4 - Mark 12: 28-34)
Any experience is personal, something which I individually experience, to which I have an insight and to which I respond. The ‘Abba Experience’ is an experience of being accepted, it is an assurance that I am alright and that I am loved. In the Abba Experience – the world is an accepting world. This experience leads to a community belief and a community faith. It is the faith of this community which nourishes the experience and is nourished by the experience that God is love. Christian life is meant to be a spontaneous way of living, which comes from an experience. I experience God’s love and so my life is transformed and I live it as one who has experienced God.
The love commandment is given to us in all three synoptic gospels. It is found in Matthew 22: 34-40; Mark 12: 28-34 and in Luke 10: 25-28 and added to the Lukean version is the parable of the Good Samaritan from verse 29 following. In Mark’s version, it is taken up in the context of a discussion on what the great commandment of the law is. The great commandment means the essential commandment, the basic commandment, the one prescription of the law that sums up the rest. It is in answer to this, that Jesus formulates his love commandment.
Jesus is doing a number of things here in his interpretation. Firstly, what is significant is that Jesus has brought in love of neighbour on par with the love of God. This is most clear in the Matthew version of the Great Commandment, where it says the first commandment is, “You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart and with all your soul and with your entire mind. And the second is like the first, “You must love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22: 37-40). Both are aspects of the Great Commandment.
Christian life is meant to be a spontaneous way of living, which comes from an experience. I experience God’s love and so my life is transformed and I live it as one who has experienced God
Secondly, Jesus generalises the concept of neighbour. Neighbour in Leviticus 19:18in the Old Testament is a fellow Israelite. Four different Hebrew words are used: a brother, a companion, a son of your own people and neighbour. Love does not extend outside this. Later on in Leviticus 19: 34 (following) this is extended to what is called ‘stranger’ a category quite frequent in the Old Testament. “You shall love the stranger as yourself.” A stranger is a refugee, someone who has come to live in your tribal territory. It might be a fellow Jew, a gentile or someone adopted by you and therefore part of your people.
Scene where Fr. Mike was killed
There are three categories of people who are powerless, hence specially loved by God: the widow, the orphan and the stranger. This would be the limit of Old Testament love. If you love your neighbour, you will love the refugee. However, there is no command that you have to love the gentile and those outside your people. The Old Testament says that you must love God and Jesus says, you must love God and love your neighbour, as you would yourself.
Again, we find another kind of formulation in John, which is a Christological formulation. All the Johanine texts: John 13: 34, 15: 12and 1 John 3: 23 and II John verse 5 are Christological formulations. “Love one another, as I have loved you.” Jesus is brought in as the exemplar of our love. In these texts only love of neighbour is mentioned; there is no mention at all of loving God, for God is to be found in the neighbour; the neighbour is the sacrament through whom God becomes present. We need to keep in mind that Jesus himself and the early church understood the Love Commandment to be loving our neighbour, and that we love God when we love our neighbour. In other words, the Love Commandment of Jesus is to be read as follows: “You must love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” and this means “you must love your neighbour as yourself.” The immediate focus of our love is neighbour and the ultimate focus is God.
When two texts are brought together, as above, one text interprets the other. Jesus is probably doing this when he quotes the Great Commandment from Deuteronomy and adds Leviticus 19: 18 as an interpretation of the Deutronomic text. This is a very common Jewish technique. It does not indicate the separation of two objects. Jesus is not saying, object one, you must love God; object two you must love your neighbour. There is only one object in the love commandment. God in neighbour.
When you speak of “Love of God” it sound good but it could mean nothing. Jesus fills it with meaning when he shifts the emphasis of the Great Commandment to the love of neighbour.
In his first epistle, John elucidates what love is. The basic statement is that ‘God is Love.’ Let us love one another for God is love. Love comes from God. Love is of God. This love is all inclusive. That is why John says “Let us love one another, for this love with which we love one another, comes from God.” This is a very important theological assertion that wherever there is genuine love, there is God.
The basic Christian doctrine is that all love is of God – therefore God is the only possible source of love; God is love. God is loving. All love comes from God. God is always with us. The moment we are loving, we know that God is there. This is the one and only Christian value that we as Christians must die for. Our ultimate value is that God is love. For this I am ready to give my life. Jesus is the deepest expression of God’s love for us.
People are friends when they share. Sharing is possible only when there is great acceptance. The ultimate test of friendship is when people are able to be themselves with others without wearing masks
In John 4: 7-12 he declares, “My dear people, let us love one another, since love comes from God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Anyone who fails to love, can never have known God, because God is love. If there is no love in our lives, there is no God. In this the love of God is made manifest among us, that God sent his only son into the world, so that we might live through him. Not that we loved God, but that God loved us and sent His son to be a reconciliation for our sins.” In verses 11 and 12, we go back to our exhortation. If God so loved us, we ought to love one another. No person has ever seen God, therefore we cannot speak of loving God. But if we love one another then God abides in us and God’s love is made perfect in us.
In John 4: 7-23, the first act in this relationship of love is that God has loved us first. God’s love for us is not a response to what we do. Our correct response to God’s love for us should be that we love our neighbour. God loves us and when we love our neighbour we find we are loving God. This is what John is trying to say, and what the synoptic Gospels call “The Kingdom” or the “Reign of God.” This is a process and not a question of decision-making. When one loves God and accepts God’s love one becomes loving – then one can love one’s neighbour.
Love comes from God and is made tangible in the neighbour who is the sacrament of God’s presence. Incarnation means that God has taken “flesh,” taken up his dwelling in us and humankind is the ‘locus’ or place where Jesus encounters God. What happened to Jesus of Nazareth has an effect on all of us. And what happens to one individual in humankind happens to all and we are no more isolated individuals, for we are “HA ADAM” humankind as a whole, excluding none. We are intimately bound together in our origins and in our destiny. God is present in all people.
In the New Testament, love is spoken of as Philia, translated as friendship. Jesus says, “I have not called you servants, but I have called you friends.” Friendship is a sharing of oneself with another person. For Jesus goes on to say: “I have called, you friends, because, I have shared with you all that the Father has revealed to me” (Jn. 15: 12-17). I have shared with you my vision, my dreams, my aspirations, all that I am.
When you speak of “Love of God” it sound good but it could mean nothing. Jesus fills it with meaning when he shifts the emphasis of the Great Commandment to the love of neighbour
People are friends when they share. Sharing is possible only when there is great acceptance. The ultimate test of friendship is when people are able to be themselves with others without wearing masks. The sharing of oneself with someone is normally a process which is affective i.e. there is emotion in all kinds of friendship. This builds up communication with one’s friends, which is quite specific. It is often limited to a few people for one cannot build up friendship with everyone to the same degree. There can be circles of friends of different kinds.
The New Testament speaks also of “Koinonia,” which is community love and fellowship. In I Thessalonia 3: 13 Paul tells us “you must love everyone but especially those of the household of God.” In Koinonia, there is a sense of belonging which we have with those who belong to this group of ours. This sense of belonging comes from a shared vision, a shared goal, a specific mission, a tradition which gives us a sense of belonging as a group. Koinonia is also affective but it is less intensely affective than Philia. Koinonia is limited to those of the group and household.
Agape is described in the New Testament as ‘doing good to.’Jesus exhorts his disciples to “Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you.” (Luke 6: 27-35) and Paul too urges the Thessalonians “to always seek to do good to one another and to all” (Thessa. 5: 15). So, Agape is ‘doing good’ effectively to everyone. There are no limits to Agape. You have ‘to do good’ to all, and all means to all without exception. No one is excluded in this claim on our love. In this inclusive love we encounter people with a whole hierarchy of needs. Our response to these needs would be determined by our conception of the human person and our understanding of society.
Agape is the love of experiencing people as brothers and sisters irrespective of who they are. It is a more effective love than affective. Agape is linked to the Abba experience; i.e. of Jesus’ experience of God as Father-Mother and of experiencing people as brothers and sisters. The important thing here is ‘experience.’Agape is the Christian understanding of a basically human experience, realising that these human experiences of love are from God. It is not a feeling of being close to people or not being close to people, but it is the acceptance of responsibility for them. We acknowledge the claims that people have on us.
Effective love today calls for a change of oppressive structures, which make people victims of the system. Here we are no longer dealing with individual change but rather with structural changes, of patterns of relationships, in the way resources and wealth are distributed and power exercised
Justice is the historical expression of effective love today. “Today there is no love possible without justice” (Synod of Justice 1971). We define the New Testament understanding of love as ‘doing good to,’ effectively. Hence, love means responding appropriately to human needs.
Effective love today calls for a change of oppressive structures, which make people victims of the system. Here we are no longer dealing with individual change but rather with structural changes, of patterns of relationships, in the way resources and wealth are distributed and power exercised. In effecting structural change one has to have alternate models. One cannot merely destroy an unjust society: It has to be replaced by a just society.
Where would Jesus fit into this kind of analysis? Did Jesus opt for structural change in proclaiming the values of the reign of God; both in word and in deed? What was Jesus’ vision of a new society, a just society, a contrast community? Did he initiate a totally new framework of social relationships? What challenge does He offer us in our context of today?