We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us– and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.
And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us. 1 John 3:16-24.
In an earlier post, I suggested that John’s first epistle (which really looks a lot more like a sermon) offers us an extended love letter. In this reading from today’s Lectionary, we see a perfect example of that idea.
St. John begins by asking a hard question: “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” If we really love God, how can we stand by idly and watch the pain of His children? Loving God means that we love each other, in truth and in action. The love of God, if genuine, creates in us a compulsion to do what we can whenever we find His children in pain or in need.
St. John does not so much conceive of love as an emotion; rather, he sees it as an active consequence of our relationship with the resurrected Jesus. Love isn’t so much something we feel as something into which our relationship with God compels us. Only in St. John’s writings do we find the language “God is love”, although that notion is woven throughout the entire fabric of Holy Scripture.
I’ve written before about the grace of charity, not simply consisting of philanthropic donations, but as encompassing our love for each other. St. John argues that our charity constitutes evidence that we living in Christ. If we chose not to abide in love, we will miss the gift of Easter, and will ultimately abide in death. Love, as Christ taught us, will demand self-sacrifice. That sort of love springs only from a vibrant relationship with the Lord, which infects and spreads throughout our relationships with His “little children”. Trusting in God finds its expression in a life lived out through love of our brothers and sisters.
If the Christian Church is struggling to find its meaning or its relevance today, it need look no further than 1 John. John teaches us that our task lies not simply in minimizing need in the world, but in actualizing love. Jesus drew crowds, not because of good showmanship, doctrinal purity or comfortable accommodations with stadium seating. Rather, Jesus drew crowds because of the immense depth of his compassion. I’m convinced that the Church will only find its proper role through making God’s love visible in this fragile world.
James R. Dennis, O.P.
© 2012 James R. Dennis