Saturday, March 9, 2013

On Love

Tomorrow is what we Orthodox Christians call Meatfare Sunday.  It is technically the beginning of a 56-day fast that will culminate on May 5th, when we celebrate the resurrection of Christ, or Pascha.  As I prepare myself for this season of prayer and fasting, I am reminded of the reason for it.  And that reason, in a word, is love.  Love was the driving force behind Christ's sacrifice for us and it is, or should be, the driving force of our lives as well, something we get better at as we get older.  But I look around me and realize that the only thing about many of us that changes as we advance in years is that our physical bodies age.  Maturity is a vague concept that I used to think was marked primarily by experience.  I realize now that it is actually marked by how closely we come to resemble our Creator.  Let me explain. 

It is true what they say, about the Judeo-Christian God, that is.  He is epitomized by Love.  Whether you believe He is the son of God or just a great teacher, Jesus preached a philosophy of kindness that was unparalleled.  He told us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves and that the ultimate expression of that love is to be willing to lay down your life for him or her.  Hand in hand with that, He also told us to judge no one.  The full impact of the first statement is often missed by those who quote it.  People do love themselves - deeply.  But without compassion, self-love manifests itself as selfishness or self-centeredness; and the fruit it bears is often rotten. 

Who has not been to at least one wedding where the following verses from scripture were read:   "Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking," etc.  Now, how many of you have heard those same verses read with the word "love" being substituted with "charity"?  It used to disturb me that the King James translation used "charity" instead of "love", and I certainly didn't want it read that way on my wedding day!  But now I get it.  The words, in practice, are interchangeable.  The kind of love we are called to - that truly benefits mankind as a whole -  is sacrificial, not self-serving or self-gratifying.

You can learn with age how to adapt to others, but without God, you can never really learn how to love or to even know what love is.   The body will age as we get older, but the soul will remain childlike or, worse yet, infantile unless we reach the point of maturity where we acknowledge that we are not alone - that we are not the be all/do all of existence.  We laugh at those who persecuted Galileo because he said the Earth was not at the center of the Universe.  Yet we fail to accept the fact that we are not the center of our existence.

I look at Jesus and see that he often hung around with people most of society looked down upon and shunned, including tax collectors, and prostitutes.  And because he showed them respect and love, their lives were changed.  The tax collectors gave back money they had "stolen" from people, and prostitutes realized they were worth much more than what a man was willing to pay for them.  Love your neighbor as yourself and you can change a person's life.  Love your neighbor as yourself and you will grow into a true son or daughter of the most high God.