Love of God/Neighbor 1Jn
Love of God, Love of Neighbor
Moses with the Ten Commandments by Rembrandt (1659)
Salvation in a Nutshell: A Reflection on 1 John 4: 20
“Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” (1 John 4: 20)
Saint John has, in one verse of Scripture, captured the sum of Christianity. We are here to love God. --here to acknowledge the love God has shown us. And we express that love, and acknowledge that love, by loving other people.
There you have it, salvation in a nutshell.
Can it be that easy? Yes and no.
The answer is an easy one; accomplishing it is a whole other story. But God has given us the teaching and the tools to do just that.
The first question we have to answer is, “What is love?” The foundation of that answer is in the Ten Commandments. The Commandments define our responsibilities. The first three explain our responsibility to God. Don’t worship idols, meaning don’t place anything as more important than God. Keep Holy the Sabbath Day, and don’t use his name in vain.
The remaining seven explain our responsibilities to our neighbor. So to love my neighbor I can’t sin against him or her, by stealing from him, killing him, lying to him, cheating with his or her spouse, etc.
But as we all know, love is more than just fulfilling responsibilities. I can go through my entire life and never cheat, steal, kill, or commit adultery against my neighbor, but does that automatically mean I love him or her? No. I might not even know who he or she is. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, please note that Jesus never says that the rich man knew poor Lazarus was there outside his gate. How did the rich man sin against Lazarus? The rich man didn’t cheat Lazarus, or abuse Lazarus. What was his sin? He was indifferent toward Lazarus. Indifference sins against love.
That is why to build on the foundation of the Commandments, we must proceed to the Beatitudes, because the Beatitudes complete our understanding of love. If you look at the Beatitudes closely, you see that none of them focus on other people. The commandments all focus on my neighbor. Don’t steal. Don’t steal from who? Your neighbor! Don’t lie. --to who? Your neighbor!
By contrast the Beatitudes all focus on me. Blessed are the poor in spirit. So who are the poor in spirit? I’m supposed to be. Blessed are the meek. Who are the meek? I’m supposed to be meek.
The commandments focus on other people because they focus on responsibility, and responsibility focuses on other people. We’re responsible in relation to someone else.
The Beatitudes focus on me, because to love I have to change who I am, and not simply exercise restraint. God, to show his love, changed himself. As Paul said, God emptied himself of his Divinity and became one of us. Then to prove his love he died on the cross to give all of us the ability to change and become like him.
And that’s the completion of love. Love is self sacrificing. The commandments say, this is what I owe others, and this is what they owe me. The Beatitudes say this is what I surrender to God, so I see others as more important than me, because there is no greater good than God, and I desire to be like him. And that’s love in a nutshell.
Love is striving to conform every aspect of our lives to become like God. He’s given us his teaching to conform our minds to his, so we have to know his teaching. He’s given us his Grace in the sacraments to conform our hearts to his, so we have to use them. And then, all that’s left is to surrender our will. And once we can do that, we will truly love.
And blessed be God forever.
Father Michael Anthony Sisco, Visitor to the Confraternity of Penitents