We are each called to prayer, to sacrifice and to acts of charity, but we are mistaken if we believe that these alone are what make us Holy. Only God can transform us into His image.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
In this one verse, our Lord expresses the central yet simple message of the Gospels. We were each created in love, we are sustained by love, and we are called to be fully transformed into the image of the one in whom we were created, who is love itself.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
Unfortunately, there is a tendency these days to complicate Jesus’ message, despite the fact that He Himself said even a child could grasp the heart of His teaching. And any overly sophisticated analysis of Jesus’ message can keep us from seeing it clearly.
At that time Jesus declared, “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will.”
Now we might be led to believe that the distinction in Jesus’ simple message of love is between loving or not loving, but that would be too obvious. Everyone knows we must learn to love.
The real distinction is between loving the way Jesus loves us, or loving in a flawed human way – a way that is often tainted by self-love. Jesus told us clearly to love, as I have loved you.
But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.
We cannot, on our own, love God the same way He loves us, for the simple reason that:
We love, because he first loved us.
1 John 4:19
This is a love we can never fully return, God’s love for us is purely gratuitous, He gains nothing from loving us. And our love is merely a response to being loved. How then can we mature our love to be like God’s love?
We can only do this by loving our neighbor, even when they do not return our love, or they might fail to appreciate our efforts to show our love. But we can only offer them God’s love by allowing God to love our neighbor – through us. We cannot love His way without Him.
I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
In other words, our human love must be continually purified of anything that is not God’s love.
Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7
When any of these impediments to love are present in our thoughts, our words or our actions, the Lord seeks to prune us of these impurities.
Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
He does this in the everyday experience of human interaction. In the day-to-day grind of life, and even in what we consider to be our good works. In these, God allows us to endure circumstances that cause us to experience our shortcomings and deficiencies in loving perfectly.
For example, have we ever experienced doing good for someone, and then have that person or someone else criticize us for our efforts. This may be unfair, but our reaction to such a situation will reveal whether we are doing our charitable acts for God alone, or for ourselves.
Jesus’ only reaction was, Forgive them Father.
And even Jesus acknowledged, in His humanity, that the only good in us, is God in us.
And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.
This can be a hard message to hear. But when we do fail in our efforts to love perfectly, and we acknowledge our need for purification, God heals us through His Grace and Mercy. This is what it means to be sanctified, this is the process by which we are made a Holy people. This is Love.
Our good works are not a perfect expression of love, there will always be something less than perfect in even our best efforts. Rather, they are the means by which God purifies our love. And, as we are continually transformed through this pruning process, our works become the beautiful consequences of our being transformed into love, they are what bring our love to life.
Let us pray this week that we will allow God to prune us, so that we might bear even more fruit.
Copyright © Deacon Mark Danis
Image credit: “Love One Another” (detail) | Duccio di Buoninsegna, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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