Greetings, SBT Readers!
In my reflection today, I focus on our failure to love and how the Christian community tends to fall short of Jesus' mandate to love as He loved. This failure to love, however, transcends all religious and national boundaries and basically defines the world we live in. Here, in the west, we have become accustomed to transactional love, that is, to the idea that we do unto others what they do unto us, no more and no less; this type of "love" resembles the exchange of money for goods and services and lacks both generosity and spontaneity. Then there is possessive love, the idea that we own those we love and have a right to control them, their beliefs and their actions. Such "loving" reduces people to property, robbing them of their personhood and their right to individuation and self-determination. And then there is conditional love, the idea that people are only worthy of love if they perform in a certain way, fulfill our expectations and allow us to live vicariously through their achievements.
Of course, there are other forms of distorted loving, but these three stand in direct opposition to the love we see in the Gospels. If we are to love with the Heart of Christ, then we need to give freely, unconditionally, without expectation of re-payment; the goal is not to "invest" but to set free, to raise up, to heal, to empower-- to do for others what Christ has done for us.
When Judas had left them, Jesus said,
“Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him,
God will also glorify him in himself,
and God will glorify him at once.
My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.
I give you a new commandment: love one another.
As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.
This is how all will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.”
If Christianity can be reduced to one commandment -- "Love one another"-- why is it that we Christians have failed so miserably? It is not Jesus that is the problem, nor his teachings. Mahatma Gandhi made this clear when he informed missionary
E. Stanley Jones, "I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.” Gandhi, a Hindu, often quoted Jesus, especially the Sermon on the Mount, but having been blocked from attending a church service in South Africa on account of his race, he vowed he would only become a Christian when he met one!
I would love to know what Gandhi meant by this and what criteria he used for evaluating whether someone was indeed a Christian or a "poser." On the basis of his personal experiences of discrimination, I assume that Gandhi would have considered anyone who engages in what we name today as violations of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) to be "un-Christian." Into this category would fall a wide assortment of bigots, bullies, racists, anti-semites, white supremacists, elitists, homophobes, sexists, ageists, ableists, and body-shamers. "Oh, that's not me!" we might respond, but if we closely examine our attitudes and behaviors, we may be in for a shock. Do we, for example, feel uncomfortable with the way members of certain groups express themselves culturally? Do we feel "unsafe" in the presence of members of certain groups? Do we find ourselves judging people who look a certain way or dress a certain way? Do we become impatient with those who may take longer to perform certain tasks or who need multiple explanations and reminders to make a decision? If we are honest with ourselves, we will detect some evidence of bias or prejudice, even if it is seemingly miniscule-- and this makes us unlike the all-inclusive Christ!
Another criterion that Gandhi might have considered would be that of self-emptying love. To what extent do we Christians follow the example of Jesus and pour ourselves out in love for the world? Are we the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful -- or are we those who want our own way, at any cost, trampling others literally and figuratively to satisfy our egos? Do we weep over injustice, hunger and thirst for righteousness, and work towards peace -- or do we feed conflict, seek revenge and promote divisive thinking? Gandhi learned the principles of non-violent resistance from the gentle Jesus and was willing to pay the ultimate price for his convictions. Most of us tend to work for our own best interests rather than for the common good, choosing comfort and safety over prophetic witness.
From the earliest days, the Christian community has both exemplified love and betrayed it. As you will read in my poetic drama, Barnabas, even the great evangelizers, Paul and Barnabas, had a major falling out and ended up going their separate ways. Today, the church is divided over multiple issues ranging from abortion to gay marriage, from traditionalism to the reforms of Vatican II, from divorce to the ordination of women... Who among us is in "good standing," we might ask? Who among us loves with the heart of Christ?
Ironically, Gandhi, the critic of Christian behavior, ill-treated his wife, Kasturba, and other relatives while publicly promoting peace. In the same vein, Mother Teresa -- often esteemed as the greatest saint of the last century-- also had a dark side that worked against the well-being of the poor and destitute whom she served.
All this being considered, perhaps Jesus' one commandment is something to which we can aspire but never actually fulfill.