The shadow of the Cross has cast itself into this week, reminding us that love is a struggle. We have so sentimentalized love that we view it almost exclusively as an emotion. So, if we feel like loving someone, we do. But if we don’t feel like it, we don’t–and we can even gather reasons to justify our withholding of love.
The Bible and early Christianity strips love of sentimentality, and roots it in the will. We choose to love, and if we want to love like God, we choose to love everyone.
Douglas Burton-Christie makes this clear in his book, ‘ The Word in the Desert.’ He shows how the early desert Christians were far from being glib in their love. The sayings of the desert mothers and fathers show that their love was beyond emotion. In fact, sometimes it seemed to be beyond reason.
How do we account for this? Only by recognizing the amazing power that the two great commandments had on the early Christian community, a power described by the Didache as “the path of life” (1:2). They literally believed Jesus when he said ALL the law and the prophets hung on these two commandments. They radically believed their entire house of faith would come crashing down if these commandments were ignored.
On the other hand, we have become so self-oriented that we can name our refusal to love “righteous indignation” and then justify the fact that we have become gatekeepers of God’s love. Like civil engineers, we have built a dam across a river, releasing the water (the love) meant to flow freely but now under our control, both in terms of timing and amount.
Not so the early Christians. Their love flowed freely by acts of the will even when their emotions and their reason would have damned it up. And in their refusal to give and withhold love at their discretion, they leave us a powerful witness to emulate and an amazing grace to enact.