Learning to Love

Posted by on Feb 1, 2014 in Faith Words |

Words of Faith

Rev. Rita S. Platt

January 19, 2014

“Learning to Love”

Matthew 4:18-23

This morning’s scripture is about Jesus inviting these men to follow him – become his disciples. It was a common practice. Galilee was the place people went to follow – to learn how to live the law. Then Matthew goes on to let us listen in on Jesus’ teaching:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5: 43-45a NIV

Here and in so many other places Jesus is teaching his followers how to love.

He begins by responding to the Hebraic understanding of the Law, which instructed persons to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). Imbedded in Israel’s understanding of this teaching are two fatal mistakes in interpretation, both of which have continued to inform human thought and more importantly, social behavior until this day.

The first misinterpretation is the belief that the title of “neighbor” only applied to those persons who were situated in their own community, religion, and nation.

The second misinterpretation was the inference that loving their neighbors (who were like them) meant to hate their enemies (who were “the other”).

In point of fact, Israel both literally (and theologically) degraded interactions with any human person identified as “the other…the Samaritans…the tax collectors…the lepers . . .and of course, anyone who was non-Jewish.

The hatred for those who were non-Jewish can be located in the words written in the Mishnah: interpretation of the Law (Torah). “A Jew sees a Gentile fall into the sea, let him by no means lift him out; for it is written, Thou shalt not rise up against the blood of thy neighbor: but this is not thy neighbor.” (Mishnah Torah, Laws of Murder 4:11).

It would be easy for us to point the finger if things had changed but xenophobia (“fear of the other”), is alive and well. It has infected our theology, our politics, and our culture. Real love cannot occur with the predominating “fear of the other:” it can only exist as a result of a theology and a culture that proffers an invitation of love to all people.

Agape does not begin by discriminating between worthy and unworthy people. It begins by loving others for their [own] sake and in turn, makes no distinction between friend and enemy; it is a directed love toward both with equality. In essence, agape is selfless love that seeks to create, safeguard, and advance community because we are all connected.

Many listening to Jesus’ teaching thought it was impossible. Some still do.

Paul Tillich would argue that not only is it possible but it is necessary. In his book, Love, Power, and Justice, the thing which moves beings into life and through life—is love. He writes: “Love is the drive towards the unity of the separated. Reunion presupposes separation of that which belongs essentially together.” In other words, the very motive of love both between humans with humans and between humanity with God is to unite those beings, which are inherently one, as we believe that all of us “are made in the image of God, and in his likeness.” (Genesis 1:27)

A number of years ago the question started to circulate, “What would Jesus do?” Bracelets were even created with the initials WWJD to serve as a reminder. But the question is not what would Jesus do? Rather it is a far more dangerous one: “What are we going to do?” The answer to that question does not come easy. If we are going to honestly answer that question it will involve a struggle.

Today we remember what Martin Luther King, Jr. said concerning that struggle:

“Although man’s moral pilgrimage may never reach a destination point on earth, his never-ceasing strivings may bring him ever closer to the city of righteousness. And though the Kingdom of God may remain not yet a universal reality in history, in the present it may exist in such isolated forms as in judgment, in personal devotion, and in some group life. Above all, we must be reminded anew that God is at work in his universe. As we struggle to defeat the forces of evil, the God of the universe struggles with us. ”

—Martin Luther King, Jr., Struggle to Love, 1961

Loving your neighbor isn’t easy; but we were never meant to do it alone. We fail because we try to do it alone and then decide it is impossible. It is impossible when we try to do it in our own strength.

In a world where people so easily identify “the other” and then reason it is okay to hate them because they are not one of us, the church must break down the barriers and really love. We are called to teach people what following Jesus really means. Will we do it?