Jesus said, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:34-46
Love is at the same time the most discussed topic in history, and the most misunderstood topic in history.
Some of you may remember the movie, “Love Story” starring Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal. It’s a tale of love between two young people who fall in love, get married, and then have to face the tragedy of her death. The one memorable line from the story was, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”I don’t know about you, but I always thought that line was pretty corny. I have found that the opposite is more often true; Love means having to say you’re sorry pretty often.
Why? Because it seems so hard to get it right! I went through so much of my life not knowing what love really is. I had an idea, mostly formed by movies and television, while misunderstanding the love my own parents had for me. I had no idea that it involved sacrifice.
I knew there was a difference in the kinds of love that I had seen around me, the kind of love that a man and a woman has for each other, the kind that fathers and mothers have for their children, the kind that brothers and sisters have for each other, and the kind that endures for ever, the kind that God the Father has for us, his children. The Bible gives us the best explanation.
The Greek language, from which our New Testament is translated, has four different words that are translated into the English word ‘love.’
C. S. Lewis wrote a book about this entitled, “The Four Loves.” In it, he explores the four different Greek words, in terms of the types of love that each one implies.
The first word is ‘storgē’ meaning the bond of empathy. This is the type of love family members have for each other. It’s kind of like chance, too, because as you know, you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family. The family is the basic unit of society, and is important in so many ways to the development of children into adults, and for the mutual support needed for a good life. Sometimes that bond of family love can overcome the most harsh of circumstances, but it is also very fragile, and can be lost without much care.
The second word is ‘philia,’ meaning the love of friends that is like the love between siblings. We sometimes call it brotherly love. I have a few friends that I have know since I was in high school, or even before, that I stay in touch with. We live far apart now, but thanks to email and social media, we keep up with each other, and sometimes we see each other in our travels. We have had our ups and downs, and have not always gotten along, but the older we get the more we value our friendship. If one of them called me, and needed me to be there for them, I would go without hesitation. This kind of love also fade away easily.
The third one is ‘erōs,’ meaning the kind of love of that movie I mentioned at the beginning. It’s that sense of being in love with someone. You long to be together, and you hate being apart. Of course, as most of us know, it is the most fragile, and the most subject to corruption. It can go from infatuation to possessiveness quickly, and it can just as easily be forgotten when there is another that catches the eye. The love of the heart is easily broken, too.
The last word is ‘agápē.’ meaning an unconditional love that exists regardless of changing circumstances. It is a love that gives without the expectation of something in return. It is the word used in the New Testament when referring to the love that God has for us.
It is the word used in this bit of the Gospel according to St. Matthew we heard this morning.
Jesus said, “You shall agápē the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall agápē your neighbor as yourself.
This is the virtue of Christian love. God expects us to love him and each other with a sacrificial love, that is one that gives and expects nothing in return.
And what kind of love does God the Father have for us? His love for us is summed up in the famous passage of John 3:16;
“For God so agápē the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
The Father’s love for us is generous. It gives, and gives, and keeps on giving. Agápē never ends.
St. Paul wrote, “Faith, hope, agápē, live these three, but the greatest of these is agápē.”
Another movie that portrays the concept of love is one that is the least expected; “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” starring Clint Eastwood.
On his quest to escape from Union soldiers who try to capture him after his escape, Josey Wales picks up a cast of helpless characters along the way. The first is an elderly Native American man, who is defenseless, and can offer nothing in return. The second, a Native American woman who is being abused, and can offer nothing in return.
The last group is a pioneer family trying to make their way to Texas to find a ranch left to them by their late son, a deceased veteran of the Civil War. He rescues them from some marauders at great personal risk, with no need or hope of a reward, and he shepherds them all to the promised land, expecting nothing in return. Josey is practicing agápē, the unconditional love modeled by our heavenly Father.
This is the love that our Father wants us to have for each other. We should care about each other, love each other without expecting anything in return, and be generous with our love.
We are to love our neighbors as ourselves, that is we are to care about others as we care for ourselves. This is the love given to us by our Father in the person of our Lord Jesus, so that the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of Love might dwell within us, leading us to our eternal inheritance reserved for the sons and daughters of God. May we model the love of God in all that we think, say and do to the glory of his Holy Name. Amen.