18. Love in Practice
It has often been said that we can know a person's character by observing what he or she gets angry about. Anger reveals values we are deeply attached to. The story of Jesus driving the merchants out of the Temple is of great interest, therefore, since it affords us an insight into what he really cared about. The question is: why was Jesus so angry? Why did he manifest such an unusual outburst of indignation?
The story which we find right at the beginning of John's Gospel (2,13-22), is also recounted by the Synoptics (Mt 21,12-13; Mk 11,15-17; Lk 19,45-46). No doubt, Jesus was aggrieved because he felt that his Father's house should not be used for commercial purposes. "You are not allowed to turn my Father's house into a shopping centre" (2,16). But this "zeal" for God's holy Temple (2,17) did not only show concern for his Father's honour; it showed concern for people. For what Jesus was angry about was that the selling of sacrificial animals and the money changing business was conducted in the outer court, the so-called Court of the Gentiles, which was the only part of the Temple where non-Jews were allowed to pray. "Don't we read in Scripture, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations'?" (Mk 11,17)
A very important question is at stake here. We find in the Old Testament two conflicting approaches to morality: one based on concepts of holiness, purity and cleanliness and another based on living relationships in a covenant of love.(1) According to the first approach the Temple is a holy place and many laws are formulated to
ensure that no profane things or common people will defile it. Only priests may approach the altar as long as they have observed the many rules of ritual cleanliness. When they leave the altar they must change into ordinary clothes to avoid that they should "communicate holiness to the ordinary people with their sacred garments". On no account should any foreigner, "uncircumcised in heart and flesh", enter the inner courts of the Temple (Ez 44,4-31; here verse 9). In the other approach it is not the Temple, but the people who are central. Far from trying to keep people away from God, this spirituality invites them to a loving and joyful relationship. It addresses itself also to non-Jews:
"The foreigners who commit themselves to Jahweh, who want to worship him and love his name, - yes everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it and is loyal to my covenant, all these I will welcome on my holy mountain, and make happy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar. For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations." Is 56,6-7
It is this latter approach that Jesus made his own. Jewish men and women who wished to pray could proceed into the inner courts: the Court of Women and the Court of Israel. But non-Jews were obliged to stay in the outer court which now had been turned into a market place! John rightly sees that the implications of Jesus' actions are enormous. The old Temple, with all its rules of holiness that had made God inaccessible and that served a commercial ritualism, would have to be destroyed. A new Temple, a new meeting place between the Father and people, was established by Jesus' resurrection. This new temple will be Jesus' own body, a sacrament through which all will find access to God (2,18-22). "When I shall be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself" (12,32). "I am the way, the truth, the light. No one can come to the Father except through me" (14,6).
I believe it is very important for us to realise the new focus on people rather than on things. The whole Old Testament system of religious practices, rules and regulations, of holy objects and sacred place, of ancient traditions and hallowed customs, had to go to make place for a personal relationship to God in Christ. This means that God was and is mainly interested in people, not in the framework of religion, its instruments and laws. We, on the other hand, are so much inclined to fight for causes, to defend institutions, to be faithful to laws, at the expense of people. This is nothing else but a relapse into the Old Testament, a sad betrayal of Jesus' love.
What Christian love means
Jesus' statement that loving our neighbour was the second biggest commandment, equal to that of loving God, became the principle of Christian morality in the early Church (Mt 22,34-40; Mk 12,28-34; Lk 10,25-28). "The whole law is summed up in one precept: 'love your neighbour as you love yourself"' (Gal 5,14; Rom 13,8-10). In Johannine tradition this principle was refined further. Not only did Jesus give us love as the main commandment, he also showed us how to live it. This is something new, something Christians can be recognised by. "A new commandment I give to you, namely that you should love each other. In the same way as I love you, so you should love one another. By this people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (13,34-35). "This is my commandment that you should love one another as I have loved you" (15,12). "This is what I ask of you: love one another" (15,17). Neighbourlylove and solidarity with members of one's community we find elsewhere too. The essential novelty of the Johannine understanding of love is its Christological reference: that we should love one another as Jesus loved us.(2)
Jesus showed his love by giving his life for us (10,1; 15,13) and we too should be prepared to serve our neighbour with a similar total commitment, as we saw in the previous chapter. But this wholehearted dedication, however good in itself, would miss an essentia element if it does not retain at the same time the human qualities of true "love". Jesus loved us in a much more deep and genuinely human sense than merely dying for us. He treats us as persons who are preciou in his eyes; not as objects of a cause worth giving his life for. It is this aspect of Jesus' love that we will consider in this chapter. How can we learn from Jesus to treat people as persons dear to God and loveable in themselves.
The need of affirmation
A good example of Jesus' approach can be seen in the story of the woman caught in adultery (7,53 - 8,11). Although the passage is a late addition to John's Gospel, 278 it fits in well with the rest of the Gospel. 279 For the scribes who have caught the woman in the act of adultery, she is no more than an object. They have dragged her to the Temple. They want to see the law of punishment applied to her (8,5). They are using her as an interesting case which may help them trap Jesus into saying the wrong thing (8,6). They place her in the middle of the crowd for people to look at (8,3). They thus reduce her to a thing, an object of disgust. How different is Jesus' attitude! For him not the law nor any theoretical values, but she herself matters as a person. To save her embarrassment, he does not look at her but bends down (8,6). He writes with his finger in the dust on the ground, probably to remind her accusers that God writes the names of all sinners in the dust of the earth (Jer 17,13). Through this simple gesture and the words, "Let the person who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her " (8,7)' he forces them to consider the personal aspects of sin. "Why did this woman commit such a sin? Have you not experienced similar things in your own life: affection for another person, temptation, weakness, the attraction of an exciting romance?" When the accusers had disappeared bewildered and ashamed, Jesus turns directly to the woman. By saying to her, "I do not condemn you. Go as a free person, but do not sin again" (8,11) Jesus expresses his respect and his trust.(3) In other words, he affirms her.
For this is what people need most, also today: affirmation. Recent studies on labour relations indicate that the deepest causes of industrial unrest do not lie in unsatisfactory wages, hygiene or work conditions. The real reason for unhappiness and revolt lies in the fact that in industry many people are simply used as tools. Their "Adam nature" may be satisfied with food, drink, dress and other material benefits that can be bought with money; their "Abraham nature" (their desire to be called out to a country of promise) will only be fulfilled if they are given a chance to be creative, to discover new things, to experience growth. Workers will only be happy if they are treated and challenged as persons.(4)
Urbanisation and technology have revolutionised the way we live. One unfortunate side effect is that the free and happy development of persons is often sacrificed to the demands of physical survival in an impersonal world. The outcome of this is the frequent occurrence, especially in our westernised world, of so-called "frustration neurosis". It shows itself in many psychological disturbances: in loneliness, in feelings of uncertainly about one's own worth, in an inability to relate happily to other people, in breakdown of marriages by lack of in-depth communication, in painful conflicts between the generations. The root cause underlying many such symptoms is a deep inner frustration in people because they do not feel appreciated and loved. They have not received the affirmation they need. They have not been given a sense of their own worth.(5)
Affirmation means allowing another person to be true to himself or herself. It is a gift of respect and love by which we tell the other person that he or she is good and beautiful and lovable. Affirmation seeks not to control or to manipulate. In a relationship of affirmation the other person is allowed to be as he or she is, so that he or she can grow to become the person he or she is but cannot be as yet. The other is allowed to become himself or herself in his or her personal way and following his or her own pace. The source and mode of all affirmation lies in God himself: how he creates us lovingly, wishing us to be who we are; how he invites us respectfully and caringly to become his own children; how his omnipotent majesty tenderly respects our free will and self esteem by allowing us to love him in return with true human generosity.
If we want to love others the way Christ loves us, our love will have to be this love of affirmation. And this kind of love is not a theoretical construction - like the vague resolution "to love everyone" so often found in Christian practice. The love of affirmation is something that can change all our relationships, that will Christianise our dealings with people throughout the day and in all circumstances. Let us work this out at the hand of some practical examples.
Thinking thoughts of blessing
To see what Jesus' love means in practice John composed the narration of Lazarus' death and resurrection (11,1-44). Some of the facts narrated may well go back to a memorised tradition, but John skilfully re-wrote the narrative so that it could become a meditation on Jesus' psychology. No doubt, the story has other functions too. It serves as a climactic sign that brings the conflict between Jesus and the pharisees to a head.284 It's main doctrinal theme is to proclaim Jesus as Lord of life and death, in the sense of 'living' explained in chapter 15.285 But it also focuses on the quality of relationships, on Jesus' unique way of loving. In fact, the purpose of the whole story is to show how Jesus' love leads to life and resurrection
For the story is about Jesus' love, an element frequently overlooked by commentators. "Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus" (11,5). Mary and Martha write, "Lord the man you love is ill" (11,3). Jesus calls him, "Our friend Lazarus" (11,11). And when Jesus speaks at Bethany, the Jews remarked, "See how he loved him!" (11,36). This frequent mention of Jesus' love with respect to a particular person and a particular family is unusual in the Gospel. The only other person it frequently and specifically mentions in this way is "the disciple Jesus loved" (13,23-26; etc.). It shows that in John's eyes the whole story demonstrates Jesus' way of loving.
In the first part of the narrative (11,1-16) there is a long account of seemingly unnecessary events. Jesus receives the message that Lazarus is ill, but he delays his stay in the Transjordan so that Lazarus meanwhile dies. Jesus has a conversation about this with the disciples in which he says that Lazarus has fallen asleep - an observation which the disciples characteristically misunderstand. What is the purpose of this first episode? I we disregard other stylistic and theological themes for the moment, Jesus here demonstrates his love for Lazarus in his thoughts . The disciples have written Lazarus off, but Jesus is full of concern about him. It is an aspect of loving we often overlook. But it is extremely important. We cannot hope to affirm other people in their true worth, if we do not first allow them to live and flourish through our thoughts.
Often our everyday human thinking is so self-centred that we are not really bothered about other people's wellbeing. They simply do not exist in our thoughts; or if they do, they are merely there as things or objects. Often we have written people off as if they were dead anyway. Jesus shows us that we should adopt a totally different inner attitude. People should live in our thoughts. We should wish them well. We should think about them with care and appreciation. In fact, our thoughts about other people should be thoughts of prayer , of blessing and a calling down of God's graces. Jesus' thoughts about Lazarus were, "this illness is not unto death" (11,4). "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awake him out of sleep" (11,11). They were thoughts filled with the desire to give life.
I believe this should be our general attitude as Christians. It should be our deepest desire to wish well all the people we meet during the day. When we travel with people on a bus or jostle along in a crowd on a sidewalk, our silent contact with them should be filled with blessing. When we hear about people by a report in the newspaper or on a newsreel of television, our instinctive reaction should be to extend to them a spontaneous feeling of brotherhood and love. And at the end of each day when we review everything that happened, we think of all the people we met, we spoke to, we worked with, and as we think of each individually, we embrace them in our hearts in a gesture of genuine blessing. If we have been in conflict or have been hurt, we allow the silence of Jesus' love to heal us and close the wound. It is from this inner attitude of truly wanting to affirm people through our thoughts that our external relationships will spontaneously recive a new direction.
Speaking words that build up
When Jesus arrived at Bethany he did not enter the village or approach Lazarus' house. Instead, he sent a confidential message to Martha and met her outside the village (11,17-27). Jesus obviously acted in this way to have the opportunity of speaking to her in private. We can well understand why. Martha was the kind of practical person who needed to talk things over. She had this reputation in Luke's Gospel (Lk 10,38-42), but also John presents her in this way. It is Martha who will point out later that removing a stone from the tomb may cause a problem: "By this time there will be a smell for he has been dead four days" (11,39). Jesus takes time to discuss with her what has happened to her brother, and to take the opportunity of giving her a personal instruction on the meaning of resurrection. In the end he puts her the direct, personal question: "Do you believe this?" She answers him, "Yes, Lord. I believe that you are the anointed one, the Son of God, who is to come into the world" (11,26-27).
In this section of our story Jesus manifestly draws our attention to another element of loving: attentive and friendly conversation. The true meaning of human conversation is that we give ourselves to the other in our words. This gift will be accompanied by a respectful listening through which we enable the other to give himself or herself to us. Both our speaking and our listening should be done in such a way that we put no obstacles to the autonomy and growth of the other person. On the contrary, by a genuine sharing we should try to afford the other person opportunities to discover his or her own worth.
Psychologists tell us that this affirmation through attentive and personal speech is essential for a person's psychic birth. Children only begin to discover themselves as true persons by the love expressed to them by their parents. The beginning of speech, of understanding and formulating meaningful messages, is at the same time the beginning of one's role in human society. In transactional analysis one goes even further. The three aspects or states of our personality: the parent, the adult and the child, are each built up and stored in our own memories through words we have heard or have spoken.(6) It is impossible to underestimate the importance of conversation in building up our inner personalities.
Again I believe that these facts can help us to adopt a truly Christian practice of listening and speaking. A little word of appreciation can do untold good. A word of encouragement on behalf of leaders and parents can lead to lasting psychological and spiritual health. Very often our words may function as blessings, as good wishes spoken on behalf of Christ who may bring warmth and sunlight where life is cold and dark. Remembering how precious the gift of our words is, we will carefully abstain from empty flattery or clever diplomacy. By being more silent than loquacious, by words that are truthful and sober rather than pompous or sophisticated, we can greatly contribute to the inner wellbeing of the people we meet.
Sharing human feelings
Mary was a different kind of person than Martha as we can see from the next episode (11,20-37). Mary acts impulsively and with deep feelings. When Martha has informed her that Jesus is waiting outside the village, she runs out of the house to meet him. Seeing Jesus she falls at his feet and weeps. Jesus' reaction is very interesting. Whereas he had entertained a serious conversatign with Martha, he now does not speak a word. He too begins to weep. "When Jesus saw that she was crying, he was deeply moved in spirit and upset.... Jesus wept" (11,33-35). Jesus knows instinctively that Mary cannot be consoled with talk. The only meaningful gesture of love he can give her is to share her feelings profoundly. Therefore, although he was God-made-man and although he knew he was to raise Lazarus within a short time, he too begins to weep. For me this is one of the most amazing passages in John's Gospel!
If a person has the right to be true to himself or herself, this obviously includes the right to have the feelings and emotions occasioned by one's own experiences. But in our western culture the expression of feelings has often been frowned upon as a weakness or as imposlng an unnecessary burden upon others. Moreover, in the Christian spirituality of the last few centuries natural and spontaneous human feelings were played down. All this has conspired to make many of our relationships cold and businesslike, instead of being warm and affectionate. Many of us have become hampered in our own feelings, or find it difficult to share naturally in the emotions experienced by others. And yet such a sharing is often a very meaningful, indispensible gift of love.
It is affirmation once again. When parents rejoice at the birth of a child, we affirm them by sharing their joy. When a person is saddened because of repeated failure, or the loss of a close relative or friend, or the possibility of impending death, we do not really help by offering logical arguments or empty words of encouragement We should first affirm the person by accepting his or her sadness, making it our own. Anger, desire, fear and enthusiasm are so much part of people's psychological make-up that we cannot recognise a person fully if we do not enter into those feelings.
The vow of virginity for religious and of celibacy for priests has in the past led to a spirituality which was characterised by a great impoverishment of ordinary human affection. This is a great pity. For if anyone should be able to manifest the richness of Christ's love, it should be his priests and religious. Priests and religious therefore need to rediscover that their special status and their full dedication to Jesus' kingdom should not prevent them from extending to people the feelings of the human heart. Celibate men should learn to be tender and affectionate towards women, without thereby granting the intimacy and exclusive rights proper to married love. Women religious should develop natural, caring relationships with men without yielding that liberty which they have chosen for Jesus' sake. We cannot love as Christ loved without human feelings.287
Raising a person to life
In the story of Lazarus the climax is quite dramatic. Jesus approaches the tomb and orders that the stone be removed from the entrance. When it has been done Jesus says a prayer and cries out with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man comes out, with burial cloths still wrapped round his hands, his feet and his face. "Untie him", Jesus says, "and let him go" (11,38-44). With one powerful decision Jesus liberates him from the tomb, loosens him from his bonds, gives him life.
Another indispensible element of true love is the unrestricted gift of personal friendship. The existential philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre has so well expressed through his plays and short stories how people can be imprisoned by circumstances that hem them in on every side. Adverse economic and social conditions, personal psychological traumas, conflicts with one's closest relations, falling a victim to disease, unemployment and other events outside our control can isolate us in a terrifying loneliness. "My solitude is my prison, my punishment for I don't know what crime".288 Many people are caught in such a prison and they cannot liberate themselves. Attempts at self-affirmation by seeking security on one's own strength or enjoying pleasures alone, are doomed to fail. They cannot make a person really happy, nor his life meaningful.
It is only other people who can liberate us from our prison of loneliness by the free gift of themselves. By giving us genuine friendship and love. they give us the self-respect and self-worth by which, like Lazarus, we can step out of the tomb and loosen our bonds. This liberating act of friendship cannot be bought with money or acquired by conquest or coercion. Precisely because it is the free gift of another person, we are as helpless as Lazarus was, until we feel the power that calls us out of our friendless existence.
In a very deep sense this is the life and resurrection which Jesus offers to every human being. By dying for us and by inviting us to become his brothers and sisters he, more than anyone else, gives us the possibility to realise our own beauty and self-worth. But Jesus' fundamental and general gift needs to be concretised and made specific i the realization of love offered by his followers. That is perhaps the fullest extent of his command, "Love one another as I have loved you". By extending genuine friendship and love to another person, we are Christ for that person. Through us Christ becomes that person's life and resurrection.
No one had understood this better than the fascinating Russian novelist F. M. Dostoevski. In 1866 he wrote his famous "Crime and Punishment" in which he describes the horrible crime of Rodion Raskolnikov who axes an old widow and her sister to death. Confusion, pursuit by the police, remorse, severe punishment in a Siberian prison camp follow. In all the turmoil and anguish that now fill his life one pillar of support remains: the love of Sonia, a simple but deeply religious prostitute. Sonia travels to Siberia and stays in a village near the prison camp throughout the eight years of Raskolnikov's penal sentence. When he finally comes out of his prison and realises the depth of her love, he knows that it is her love and unfailing friendship that offer him the possibility of a truly new life. Sitting on a river bank Raskolnikov reads the story of Lazarus and understands how this applies to himself. His regereration as person with self-respect can now begin, because Sonia calls him out of his past, as Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb.
The act of friendship we extend to another person may not be as total or far reaching as this example. What is important, is that we are willing to give to other people something of ourselves: our time, our sincere interest, our sharing a part of our daily life. For by giving these things we tell another person more convincingly than we ever could in words that he or she is a person worth being loved. Such friendship really means life or death to others: the life of happiness and freedom as people who experience their own loveliness or the slow death of loneliness and despair.
Attitude dictates the rules
When we read John's Gospel to study how Jesus expressed his love for different people, we find a wide range of responses on his part. Each time we find a slightly different approach: an angry outburst to protect the non-Jews in the Temple, a critical discussion with Nicodemus at night, a friendly conversation with the Samaritan woman of Sychar, the tender protection of the woman caught in adultery, the verbal comfort given to Martha and the tears of sorrow shared with Mary. This illustrates an important aspect of Christian loving. The specific content of this love cannot be legislated for in precise rules and prescriptions. It must remain ambiguous since the thoughts, words, feelings and actions will need to respond to the particular need of the person loved. The mandate to love as Jesus loved should not be understood as imposing a determined set of actions. Rather, it is an invitation to a new manner of life. to a life in which other people become really meaningful to us as persons, a life that is not self-cantered but turned towards the other. Since Christian loving finds its model in Jesus' all-embracing love, it requires an attitude as genuine and all embracing as Jesus' attitude was.
For reflection. Mary pours out perfume
Shortly before Jesus' passion Mary, Lazarus' sister, anoints Jesus' feet with perfume (read 12,1-8). It is obviously an act of affection and love. Judas maintained that what she had done was a waste of money. The perfume could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor! But Jesus defended what Mary did because he appreciated her love.
Who have been the people who have affirmed me in my life? Can I remember distinct incidents where others affirmed me through words, feelings or actions? What are the friendships that sustain me in my self-respect?
What do I think about other people? Do I wish them well and bless them in my thoughts? Do I pray for all the people I have dealings with during the day? Do my acts of friendship come from this deep inner attitude of love?
Do I allow myself to have feelings? Do I recognise the emotions in other people? Can I cope with the feelings of other persons, share them sincerely, make them my own? What are my strengths and weaknesses in this regard?
If I compare my love to that shown by Jesus, what difference do I observe? What is holding me back from giving myself more generously to other people? Who are the people waiting to be affirmed by me and what can I do for them now?
(1). J. WIJNGAARDS, "Give and take in a pact of love "Inheriting the Master's Cloak, Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame 1985, pp.39-48.
(2). F. C. FENSHAM, "Love in the writings of Qumran and John', Neotestamentica 6 (1972) 67-77; F. VOUGA, "Aimez-vous les uns les autres", Bulletin du Centre Protestant d'Etudes 26 (1974) 5-31; R. F. COLLINS, "'A New Commandment I give to you. That You Love One Another....' (Jn 13:34)", Laval Theologique et Philosophique 35 (1979) 235-261.
(3). The story is analysed extremely well by F. KIVENGERE in The Spirit is Moving, Africa Christian Press, Achimota,Ghana 1976, pp.29-36.
(4). F. HERZBERG, Work and the Nature of Man, Crosby Lockwood Staples, London 1968.
(5). I am greatly indebted for this insight to the excellent books by A. A. A. TERRUWE: Neurosis in the Light of Rational Psychology, Kennedy, New York 1968; De Liefde bouwt een woning, Romen, Roermond 1968; Geloven zonder angst en vrees, Romen, Roermond 1969; Geef mij je hand, Tijdstroom, Lochem 1972.
(6). T. H. HARRIS, I'm OK - You're OK, Pan, London 1973, pp.16-35.
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