What else can be greater than receiving the greatest of gifts this new year? Love, the greatest of all gifts! (1 Corinthians 13:13). Jesus says, “Love the Lord your God… Love your neighbor as yourself. there is no commandment greater than these”. (Mark 12:30,31). Thus He summarized the whole of commandments with the most powerful yet unconventional tool named love. These two commands are often referred to as the vertical and horizontal components of love. Vertical – the relationship with God and horizontal – the relationship with fellow beings. Is love that important?
By nature, we all seek to be recognized, respected, cared etc. In short, we expect to be loved by others. As many say, we start to experience love right from the time we feel the tender embrace of our mother within her womb. We expect to receive it from our parents, friends, spouse, children, neighbors etc. We feel a sense of protection and purpose when we are loved by them. We are often disappointed when they do not express it as we may expect. A word of love and encouragement even if it’s from a stranger helps us to rise above our problems. It boosts our morale. It gives us the courage to live. This list can go on and on.
Inspite of being loved by our loved ones, we may still find a vacuum within ourselves. When we search deeper and deeper, we may be longing for an unconditional love that can satisfy the depths of our soul. This can be fulfilled only if we connect to the author and the source of love, God himself! In fact, it is this reason which made God to sent His son Jesus to this world. He established the lost connection with us by giving Jesus as a sacrifice to die on the cross. By accepting him, we get into the embrace of God’s sacrificial love extended to us even when we are not worthy of receiving it. Having experienced God’s unconditional love, we are called to reciprocate it through our love for our fellow beings. That becomes the second component of Jesus’ love commandment.
The other part of love is equally important as the first one. Our love for our fellow beings function as the measuring scale for our love for God. For we cannot receive love from God yet not allow it to flow through us. In this we act as the reflectors of God’s love to others. Love is simple to start with. But is complex to sustain. For example a simple smile is enough to extend our love to others. We might have witnessed the contagious nature of our smile and our act of compassion. The way it spreads across chain of people is amazing!
To visit the marginalized or hospitalized or the prisoned and giving our time, energy and money changes their lives altogether. It needs our willful act of stepping out and reaching them. While revealing his guideline for final judgment, Jesus says to the righteous on his right side “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” (Matthew 25:40). Jesus went to the extent of equating the depressed to himself. Helping the marginal is the central value on which we will be assessed when He comes again. In our love for material things today, we many times neglect to see what we can do to the poor. We are often deceived by the alluring advertisements of our days to spend all our time, energy and money on material things than on the poor. We need to have self vigil on this.
But, is compassion enough? No! Love is more than the act of compassion alone! It takes serious effort sometimes. Here is where we miss quite often. It’s not so pleasant to give more active ears to our own family member’s differing voice sometimes. It’s not easy to love people who have a different opinion, faith, belief, custom etc. It’s almost impossible to love our enemies. But should we really go out and love them? Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,.. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?.. And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?… Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:44-48). Here Jesus equates loving one’s enemy to heavenly Father’s perfectness itself!
We might have to understand others by putting ourselves into their shoes. We need to act in empathy without expecting any reciprocity from them. Of course Jesus died for us even when He knew we would fail again and again. It might break us sometime. Yet this unconditional love is the need of the present era. Fear, distrust, anger and hatred are clouding over the whole world today. It’s love which can bring the much required peace in us, in our families, in our societies, in our nations and in the whole world. The remarkable qualities of love can deal with all these. It’s imperative to quote Paul, the apostle’s disposition on love here. “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance”. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
May God wrap us with this wonderful gift of love this new year. May He help us to reflect His love on others. May our love help millions to experience it. Be loved and be loving. Amen!