January 31, 2010
The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, “God does not love us because we are valuable. We are valuable because God loves us.”
We are valuable because God loves us. Isn’t that an awe inspiring thought? Even in our worst of days or lives, we are still valuable because God loves us! When presented with this, we will readily acknowledge that we know this. Yet, during our everyday lives; during our meeting of friends new and old, stranger and not so strange, and with challenging and not so challenging people, we so quickly forget or simply put out of mind this well known fact.
What is it about Christians who, despite professing themselves followers of Jesus Christ, he himself who is the King of Love, we are yet capable of monstrous acts of hatred, intolerance, prejudice and even violence? The evil in manifestly evil people can be attributed, as it usually is, to an absence of love and subordination to Satan. They are said to so lack the fundamental quality of love that marks those who know God, love God, are loved by God, and hence should love all of God’s people. This, perhaps, we can understand in the perversions of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot or even Osama bin Laden. One could include the genocidalists of Bosnia, Rwanda, and Darfur. The abuses of any so-called heathens wherever they can be found throughout history and present. How, though, does one explain the perversions of what are supposed to be good people; Christian believers who in the name of love do some very hateful things?
In America, alas, we are not exempt, fore we are all too used to confrontations in the name of Christian love. Fred Phelps, a Baptist preacher from Kansas, has made a career of picketing many a thing, but most notably with signs that says, “God hates fags”. He does not do it alone, his congregation participates. He has gone to the extreme of picketing outside of funerals for gay men who died of AIDS with signs stating that the dead man is going to Hell. Quite the Christian, don’t you think? I am quite sure it is done in Christian love. At least, I am sure he thinks so.
Or how about those who go to abortion clinics and scream many hateful things to those who go into the clinics. Apparently, killing the doctors who perform the abortions is what Christians are meant to do. I am sure there is a passage in the Old Testament someplace that specifically tells us to stone abortion doctors. Of course there are those who advocated slavery in a not too distant past. Oops, I forgot the Klu Klux Klan is still alive and kicking.
The lists are virtually endless.
Over the years I have encountered many a couple who wanted I Corinthians 13 read as part of their wedding service. On face value, it would appear to be the best Scripture reading available for a wedding. I won’t discount that, however scholars have tried for centuries to show what this passage may have actually meant. The love that which the Apostle speaks and the love that couples propose at their wedding day, are not the same thing.
St. Paul did not have marriage in mind with the sort of romantic love we most associate with weddings. Believe it or not, the usage of this passage has only become popular for weddings in the past century. Prior to this, and the birth of dozens of English translations of the Bible, the English translation of the Bible was the King James Version of 1611. It is in this version in which the word ‘charity’ was used, where as the Revised Standard Version of 1952 that had the word ‘love’. So an unintended consequence of the ‘modern translation’ liberated St. Paul from the captivity of the older notions of philanthropy and social welfare with which “charity” was associated. By doing something as seemingly harmless as changing one word, we now have a wedding passage and no longer a charitable passage. However, theologians tend to think the original Greek word here is better translated as charity. Further, with what we know of St. Paul and his teachings, ‘charity’ would seem to be a better fit than ‘love’.
But ‘love’ sounds so nice and right, some would say. However, St. Paul is speaking of a love that is much more difficult and demanding than the love a couple is prepared to give. The love he speaks is not an inner romantic, full heart or erotic love. No, his love is a love of direction of what Christians do, not feel. As we know, St. Paul was not necessarily an advocate of marriage. He went so far as to recommend against it. This in itself would seem to imply that he was not speaking of the love we tend to think of when the word is mentioned.
If love is simply a matter of loving those who love you, then what is the point? As Jesus said during the Sermon on the Mount, “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” Jesus required His followers to follow a more demanding style of love. Christian charity.
Love of neighbor is therefore the eternal quality in loving. As Jesus pointed out in his famous parable of the Good Samaritan, by making us think about who is really our neighbor. The neighbor Jesus implies may be the less handsome, perfumed or entertaining. The neighbor may live a life that is different, love differently or simply live poorly. The neighbor is really every person you meet. He is your neighbor on the basis of equality with you and me before God. But we must remember that every person unconditionally has this equality and has it unconditionally.
Since the neighbor is everyone who stands equally before God, and we are obliged to love our neighbors, it follows naturally that we are to love our enemies, for despite the fact that we do not like them and they do not like us, they are our neighbors and therefore we are obliged to love them. We are being called to treat them with Christian Charity. This makes a great challenge for us. Fore this has turned a difficulty, loving those who are similar to us, into impossibility, loving those whom it is natural not to love because they are dissimilar to us and therefore easily defined as enemies. Hatred is the fruit of fear. Perfect love, the Bible says, casts out fear.
Love is doing what the law demands; it is loving God and one’s neighbor, as He so loves us. To love God is to love oneself truly; to help another person to love God is to love another person; to be helped by another person to love God is to be loved.
Let me leave you with a little turn on this topic, by telling you a brief story of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Though this story may not seem directly related, I think you can see Christian charity or love at work here.
In 1994 she was the keynote speaker at the National Prayer breakfast in Washington D.C. The scene was unforgettable; on either side of the podium sat President Clinton, Vice President Gore, and other dignitaries. Aids rolled the frail, eighty-three year old Mother Teresa to the podium in a wheelchair and had to help her stand to her feet. She stood on a special platform, and even with that, the four-foot-six inch woman could hardly reach the microphone.
Nevertheless her words sent shock waves through the auditorium. She rebuked America and its leaders for the policy of Abortion. Mother Teresa said that “America has become a selfish nation, in danger of losing the proper meaning of love; giving until it hurts…”
Mother Teresa further said, “If we accept a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill each other? … Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love; but to use any violence to get what they want.” Mother Teresa continued by pleading with pregnant women who did not want their children, “Please don’t kill the child …. I want the child. Please give me the child. I want it. I will care for it.”
She meant what she said. Mother Teresa, at that time, had already placed over three thousand children with families in Calcutta. She is a model of self-sacrificing love, speaking out on behalf of the weak and giving herself to serve them.
She speaks of love and charity rolled up into one. We are challenged today to determine if we too will fail at Christian charity; at Christian love. If God so loves us, even in our days of acting out some form of anger or hatred, can we not do the same in place of anger and hatred? Some have accused Jesus of teaching us to become pacifists. Maybe he did; and maybe he didn’t. Is that such a bad thing? However, one thing is for sure. We were called to love our brethren as we would have them love us. Is this passivity or simply living in peace? All of human life is valuable. Why? Because God loves us and asks nothing less of us toward our fellow mankind.
God Love You+
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.