The Christian love – Agape: Meditation for 14th Sunday after trinity
The lesson for the day, as summarised in the Collect, is that love is paramount in a Christian’s life and activities. Anything he does without love is worthless and living without love is to be dead. Love is the most excellent way and the greatest of all virtues. Love, here, is the translation of Greek αγαπῃ (agapē). Agape is marked with forbearance, which means patiencea, tolerance and restraint in the face of provocation. According to Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, forbearance “is the quality of being patient and sympathetic towards other people, especially when they have done something wrong.” This means that this love (agape) is unconditional, and does not depend on the recipient’s attitude or goodness.
Agape is called Christian love. This is not because other English concepts of love are unchristian. For instance, it is also the English word “love,” which as well translates the Greek φιλος (philos), ήρος (ēros) and στοργή (storgē). Philos describes friendship, relationship and appreciation of value and worth. Eros has to do with sexual attraction and relationship. And storge is about familial or natural affection such that a parent has for his/her child. Indisputably, these are also of God. But while they all depict love for the deserving and desired, agape goes the extra mile of loving even the undeserving and repulsive. Thus, it mostly reflects the love of Christ, Who, while we were yet sinners, died for us. Besides, almost all the time when Christians are enjoined to love in the New Testament, it is the word agape that is used. It is both selfless and forbearing.
The OT (Lev. 19:33-37) is a legislative injunction for the practical demonstration of love. People of God are to love and treat others as self, irrespective of relationship. Foreigners should be treated as indigenes (son of the soil) and people should not be cheated.
In the Epistle (1Cor. 13:1-13), Paul expanded “the most excellent way”, with which he ended the preceding chapter, into a “Hymn of Love”. Three points are to be noted in the hymn:
• Even the Spiritual gifts, which the Corinthians make much fuss of, are worth nothing, if love is lacking.
• It is not anything that goes for love. Love is a sterling virtue with qualities, which encompass the fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is sacrificial and unconditional.
• Love is the ultimate and the greatest of all virtues.
The Gospel (Lk 10:25-37) is the parable of the Good Samaritan. The occasion was Jesus’ interaction with a lawyer. The question is means to eternal life, and the agreed answer is love – for God and neighbour. It is in answer to the lawyer’s further question of who is one’s neighbour that Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan. The relationship between the Jews and Samaritans was one of hostility. The Samaritans were so hated by the Jews that perhaps the lawyer did not want to mention “the Samaritan” and instead said, “the one who showed mercy toward him.”
The conventional understanding of a neighbour (which the lawyer would have expected) is a person in one’s vicinity, his friend and relative. But Jesus shows in the parable that being a neighbour is more than friendly/family relationship or proximity. It is showing the love of God to all who are in need, whoever they may be, wherever they may be. Jesus expounds on the law of love. True love is put into action. It is not merely a concept or a feeling.
The Venerable Dr Princewill Onyinyechukwu Ireoba, FIMC, CMC is the Rector, Ibru International Ecumenical Centre, Agbarha-Otor, Delta State. https://ibrucentre.org
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