“All you need is love” sang the Beatles and we should not overlook the fact that Jesus and Paul were singing the same song as John and Paul, far earlier, and from a song sheet developed in ancient Israel. Admittedly, the early Christians developed the tune in a particular manner, riffing on “neighbor” in an expansive manner, but the reality is that if God is love than this has got to work itself to the core of the melody, and does, for both Jews and Christians. On the other hand, the readings for today indicate that if “all you need is love,” it does not mean that you can simply “let it be.”  Love is offered without limit, but boundaries must be drawn in any community, and Jesus points to those limits in Matthew 18:15-20.

Paul is direct, however, in presenting powerfully the centrality of love amongst the early Christians in Romans 13:8-10:

Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet, " and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this saying, namely,
"You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.

This sort of bold summing up by Paul – “love is the fulfillment of the law” - might seem to make the Christian life an easy life, foregoing rigidity for the sweet, languorous ways of love. Yet, Paul would certainly tell us that the behaviors forbidden by the law – adultery, murder, theft, covetousness, etc. – are still forbidden. In addition, there is the dictate that instead of a list by which one can measure righteousness comes the need to think constantly about how one’s behavior and words impact someone else, the neighbor, seen inclusively. "You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” as Paul himself learned from the Law, and this love will be extended to all.

This love, though, is difficult to give to all, especially the people you do not like, the people who hurt you, the people who ignore you, the ones who think they are better than you, and the ones who annoy you. And these are simply your friends and your family. What about folks at work? The people you run into casually? And how about the worst of the lot, what about the people at Church?

Church can be painful, what with all the hypocrites filling the pews -but enough about me – and sometimes a parish can be too much and we must move on. The hardest thing about moving on, though, is you keep finding other people just like the ones you left at the new parish and whom you are supposed to love as well. Jesus directs us to love our neighbors at Church by speaking to them at times of their faults, but the more I think about this passage, the more I think it is impossible today.

Jesus said to his disciples: "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that 'every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.”

Think about it. How many people in your church do you know well enough and care enough about to tell them their sins? How many do you know well enough to even know their sins? This passage, to my mind, is about discipline amongst friends, members of the Church, but we see discipline for the most part as something “the hierarchy” does in a formal and bureaucratic manner. The words “formal bureaucracy” rarely evoke feelings of love, but for us to love our neighbors informally means we have to come to know them well enough to show them love. Jesus and Paul speak of behavior which is dependent upon the Church caring for one another at the ground level, of knowing people, not to judge them, or consider them “less Catholic,” for instance, but to care for the whole person. This means knowing the whole person. I know for me it is easy to say, “all you need is love,” but harder to do the work of getting to know people, being open enough and vulnerable enough to let them know me, and to have the guts to love them not only when the going is good, but especially when it  hurts to care.

John W. Martens

Follow Me on Twitter @johnwmartens 

Comments

Beth Cioffoletti | 9/6/2011 - 11:02am
I used to get annoyed when my mother would tell me "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all", wondering what in the world I was supposed to do with all these feelings of annoyance (for lack of a better word) that I had for other people.  In time I've come to understand a certain amount of wisdom in her words, that many times if I can hold my own ego-driven reactions and just act with respect and restraint, I can come to understand and even treasure the unique gifts of others.

But the best way I've learned to love is through prayer.  Just sitting with the knowledge of how loved I am by God, with all my quirks, makes it possible to see the lovedness of others.

I think you hit the nail on the head with your last line: vulnerability is key.
NORMA NUNAG | 9/4/2011 - 2:29pm
I guess the hardest part is at the beginning, to get to know another presupposes to get to know oneself first.   And that is very difficult!  Knowing ourselves for who we are demands honesty, discipline, humility and hard work.  Until we know ourselves, with all our gifts and warts, and accept ourselves, then we cannot really love ourselves, and the others.  We cannot love what we don't know.  But because we are relational beings we cannot know ourselves by our selves, i.e. in isolation, but only through our interaction with other humans.  So we are really dependent on others to know and understand ourselves.....we simply need others, before, during and after.... oh gosh, this is getting difficult.  Okay I'll quit here before I fall on my face.

But, thanks for the piece.  It's a great topic to talk about.