The Church presents yet another excerpt from the First Letter of John as our first scripture for Mass, and this particular text emphasizes the integral relationship between our profession of Faith that God is Love and our way of life. If you profess in Faith that Jesus Christ is God then you are also professing in Faith that God is the Trinity and to profess in faith that God is the Trinity is to profess in faith that God is love.
If we believe that God is Love then we will live in ways that manifest God’s love for others. If we do not, we make our profession of Faith a lie.
The First Letter of John then goes on to testify that love expresses itself in fidelity to God’s commandments. If we want to know what love looks like in actual practice, our guide is not merely ideas or feelings or intuitions or ideologies or political platforms or culture, but the commandments of God.
The emphasis on the relationship of love to the commandments rescues love from abstraction, a means that we often use to evade the demand of love. The commandments of God are clear, concise, and specific- they are also the means by which true love, authentic love happens.
Love is not, as many might prefer, merely an idea or a feeling. Instead, love is an act of the will. Love means that we will the good of another person, often placing their good above our own, and willing their good even if our love is not reciprocated, even if our love is not deserved. It is in these rare, radiant and beautiful opportunities that our love manifests itself most intensely to be like God’s love.
Love is therefore, greater than mere affection and its motivation is greater than self, or even mutual interest. Love always expresses itself in sacrifice, and it is through that sacrifice, that the true depth, and intention of our love is revealed.
As such, the demand of love is great (mere ideas and feelings are not, which is why they are so often preferred). We also do not have to go far to encounter love’s demand, as it most often presents itself in the immediacy of our circumstances. It is in the fulfillment of the demand of love that we keep God’s commandments and prove ourselves to be people of integrity in terms of our profession of Faith.
Today’s Gospel presents a dramatic scene in which the Lord Jesus announces the beginning of his public mission as the Messiah of not only the Israelites, but of the whole world. He cites the prophet Isaiah as the reference point for what his mission will be and as such, what he will do.
The testimony of the Gospels is for the most part unintelligible if we do not understand how it is presenting Christ as the Messiah. Folks have tried to bracket this for the purposes of reducing Christ’s identity to being that of merely a prophet or teacher or guru or even worse than these, a vague idea or feeling. Usually these reductions are presented to serve some ideological purpose or because a person cannot bring themselves to make an act of faith that what the testimony of the Gospels has to say about the Lord Jesus is actually the truth. The result is that the Gospels make little if any sense and the Jesus who is presented as merely a prophet or teacher or guru is hardly worthy of belief and his way of life even less worthy of commitment (and worse than even this- the Jesus presented is a lie).
A willingness to learn about and understand what the Gospels have to say about Christ’s identity as Messiah is essential to knowing Christ himself. If we do not know him, we will not be able to serve him, and if we do not know him and cannot serve him, we cannot truly be his disciples.
And if we cannot be his disciples, then the meaning and purpose for which God has created us will forever remain elusive…