30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) – October 25, 2020
St. Mary – Derby, KS
Exodus 22:20-26; Psalm 18:2-4, 47, 51; 1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10; Matthew 22:34-40
(1) Love Isn’t Easy
Some people think that they are capable of great love. But really, they are just people in need of great love. Some people think that they are a very loving person, but really, they’re just looking for the affection and praise and admiration and attention of others. Some people think they are capable of great love, but really they are just someone searching to be loved.
In scripture, St. Peter is our classic example. He is so sure of himself, so sure that he loves Jesus, that he is an amazing disciple. He says to Jesus, “Lord, I am willing to go to prison with you, and even to die with you” (Luke 22:23)! Peter is ready! Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12-13). And Peter thinks he is capable of that great love. But when the time comes, he denies Jesus. Three times.
Some people think that they are capable of great love. But when the times comes—failure.
What happens to Peter though? Three times, three times Jesus asks him: “Do you love me?” And three times Peter says, “Yes, Lord, I love you.” But the word Jesus uses for love is “agapae.” Agapae love is a love that is perfect, pure, unselfish, endures. Jesus asks, “Do you agapae love me?” But Peter says, “Yes, Lord, I philia love you.” Philia love is a lesser kind of love, a love of good friends, but not perfect, not pure, prone to failure.
Peter used to think that he was capable of this agapae love. But then, after he failed, he realized the reality of his situation. He realized that, before, he thought he was capable of great love…but he discovered that really, he was not as loving as he thought.
Some people think that they are capable of great love.
(2) Just Love God and Love Your Neighbor?
When we hear a Gospel like the one today, we can start to stray in so many different directions. People use this Gospel as a way to say, “Love God and love neighbor. So pray and be a good person. That’s what matters.” And when you ask what it means to “pray and be a good person,” you get answers like, “Don’t be mean. Don’t judge. Be nice. Say a prayer. Go to Mass.” But what does that have to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
“To believe that we are good simply because ‘we feel good’ is a tremendous illusion” (AL 145). There is nothing more self-centered than this: to think that you’re good because you feel good. I know people that do so much for the church, so much for their neighbor, so many “good things” for people—and they feel so good doing it. And from a bird’s eye view, everyone would say that these people are wonderful, good, “loving” people. But—and this isn’t true for everyone—but for some of them, “they remain caught up in their own needs and desires.” And what happens is that emotions and “feeling good” become the goal, and this goal distracts from the actual point: loving God and loving neighbor. The goal is no longer loving God for God’s sake, loving our neighbor for their own sake, no. The goal becomes doing good things for others, “loving” God so that we feel better, so that we feel good. And a lot of times we don’t even notice it; we don’t even realize that this is what fuels our “love.”
Let me give you some examples. Climate change and the environment have become huge issues for people. Huge issues! I see people (even parishioners here) going crazy about them on Facebook and Twitter. Immigration and racial equality, these are huge issues! People are going out of their way to stand up for justice, to stand up for treating human beings with decency and respect. And, objectively speaking, there is nothing wrong with that. But generally, there are things more within a person’s personal purview that are more difficult to deal with and that they’re avoiding, and that generally the way that they’re avoiding them is by adopting pseudo-moralistic stances on issues like this so that they look better to others and feel better about themselves. Even though they may “objectively” be doing something good, “they remain caught up in their own needs and desires.”
Some people think that they are capable of great love. But really, they are just people in need of great love. And they have become blind to the fact that the “good” they’re doing is just a searching for love from those around them, or to “feel good.”
(3) When Love Isn’t Love
This is where we all get into trouble. Our “love” becomes a way to help ourselves feel better about ourselves. Our “love” turns into selfishness; we’re only looking out for our own happiness. And when we feel a threat to our happiness, when we feel a threat to feeling good about ourself, all of a sudden it becomes harder and harder to “love.”
Again, Peter: he was ready, he “loved” Jesus so much that he was willing to go to prison and die with him! But the moment he was given the opportunity, he bailed, he denied Jesus. His “love” was exposed as lacking. “Love” became very difficult the moment he knew he wasn’t going to feel so good.
You see this in relationships all the time. You see a young couple “in love,” always ready to be with each other, always ready to tell each other they love each other, always so “loving” with each other. A few years go by, kids come along, bills come along, reality strikes…and that relationship begins to fall apart. Why? More often than not, it’s because of this: what you thought was great love on your part was really your need to be loved, to feel loved. You don’t “feel good” any more, and so you think that “love” is gone.
(4) The Need for Agape Love
In our Gospel, twice, Jesus commands us to “love.” And not “love” in general, but agape love—a love that is perfect, pure, unselfish, and endures.
Agape love is that love we hear about and have turned into a cliché wedding reading, up until we try to live it. Agape love was described by St. Paul. He said: “Agape is patient; agape is kind; agape is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Agape does not insist on its own way; agape is not irritable or resentful; agape does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. Agape bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Agape never fails” (1 Cor 13:4-8).
In different times when I have thought that I was being a “loving” person, I went through this list. You have people in your life that you love: God, parents, siblings, friends, your spouse. Ask yourself, “Was I patient with them, even when they were driving me crazy? Was I kind? Did I get envious that they spent their time and attention on someone else? Was I rude to them? Did I insist that we do it my way? Did I insist we do what made me feel good? Was I angry and resentful? Was I happy when they messed up and I could say, “I told you so!”? Did my “love” fail?
Love never fails.
When we look at the Cross, when we come to the Mass—this is the love we see and experience and receive. This is a love that doesn’t seek to feel good, but to give all. The more you love someone, the more you want to give them everything, to hold nothing back. And on the Cross, in the Mass, Jesus gives everything, and he gives himself to us.