Two points jump out of the Gospel of John today: commandments and love. How is each one of these related to living life as a disciple? Often, many who hear the word commandments, often react and are immediately put off. There goes the Church again telling me what I can and cannot do. Yet what Jesus is doing is connecting the following of his commandments to being a true expression of loving him.
Love is another word that evokes reactions. One reason is that, even though the English language has a plethora of words to utilize and choose from, there is only one word for love and it is interpreted in many ways. In Ancient Greek, there are four words that are used to connote love. There is eros, which has to do with attraction. It is the beginning stage of love because we are drawn out of ourselves as we are attracted to another. The next word for love is philios, which has to do with friendship. This is the love between friends. If our love matures it moves from attraction or infatuation to friendship. The third word is storge or the deeper love shared with family members. The fourth word is agape, which is unconditional love.
When Jesus shares that we are to follow the commandments, he is not demanding that we do so as a tyrant would. He is providing the boundaries and parameters for us to grow and mature as people who love, who, in the words of St Thomas Aquinas, will the good of the other as other. As humans, we are social beings. We want to belong, to be accepted, and to be a part of. We seek meaning, purpose, and fulfillment in our lives. This is best done through cooperation and collaboration with God and with one another, striving to love unconditionally, agape.
If we operate from a self-centered posture in which we are only turned in upon our self, and we only seek to manipulate and get from others, instead of working for consensus and sharing a common vision with others, we will ultimately be empty with the exchange on any level, because we will be left wanting more. This is true because once the immediacy of the stimulation, whether material or sensual, ends, so does the experience of the feeling. Some happiness may linger from the effect, but we will never be filled or satisfied with finite things. We will continue to seek more and more until the pursuit of instant and constant gratification ensnares us and we are entangled in a web of addiction.
The commandments, grounded in love, are meant to provide boundaries for us, training wheels, and to keep us free from enslavement to sin, while at the same time help us to be persons who move away from being self-centered to maturing to become other-centered instead. Discipline in this way is meant to be a means of freedom for excellence such that we can become who God calls us to be and who we truly desire to be. God is not in competition with us. He is our biggest fan. As St Irenaeus wrote, the glory of God is the human being fully alive!
Commandments and morality imposed without reason or an end goal is a bludgeon. Love and mercy without accountability and justice can be enabling. Jesus provides the blueprint for a balanced both/and approach. May we seek this day for opportunities to be loving guides, to align ourselves with the Holy Spirit, who is the Love expressed and shared between the Father and the Son. May we seek where we can improve our lives so we can be more mindful and whole, to be more honest with our weaknesses, and to seek God when we are tempted and seek forgiveness when we have fallen.
As we journey in this life, we do not do so alone. As we seek to follow Jesus’ lead, as we grow and mature, we do so while in the midst of encountering and forming relationships with others. Conformed by following the commandments, we reach out in love to each other as Jesus has done for us. As we form and deepen relationships, new and old, may we encourage, support, and love one another while at the same time, challenge and hold each other accountable as we strive to be who Jesus invites us to be.
Photo: Last year’s CN graduates: After three years of religious studies with me, how have they been putting into practice what they have learned in their freshman year at the university level? Anyone want to weigh in?