How should we love one another? It’s called agape.
Why should we love one another? Today’s second reading and Gospel help us to answer this question. But the even more pressing question is how should we love one another?
‘Love one another as I love you.’ (Jn 15:12)
What can you do to promote love in the world?
How can you confront and combat hate?
How might Martin Luther King Jr.’s Beloved Community be realized?
In the New Testament, the Gospel of John and the three letters of John share stylistic features, emphasize similar theological points and address problems that affected early Christians. Because of their commonalities, these texts collectively are referred to as the Johannine literature, and they likely emerged from the same community.
Love permeates the second reading. The community members are called “beloved” (agapetoi), and they are told to love one another (agape) because God loves them. Moreover, the passage makes the simple, direct, yet profoundly complex statement: God is love. The way to understand what that means is to look at Christ’s death, understood as a selfless act of love. As the text continues (which we will hear next week), 1 John affirms that imitating God’s love with our own acts of selfless love allows God to live in us and divine love to be perfected (1 Jn 4:12).
In the Gospel, Jesus proclaims that his followers must keep the commandment to “love one another as I love you.” Moreover, Jesus declares that selfless love comes from a willingness to sacrifice one’s life for others. In the Gospel narrative, Jesus is arrested soon after this proclamation, so he is preparing his followers to understand and interpret his crucifixion as an example of selfless love (agape).
Unfortunately, the world is filled with much hate. Not only are many people not living selflessly, but they are living with hatred and disregard for others. Even worse, many claim to be followers of Christ while spewing hatred toward others. The love that is envisioned by the Johannine community may be difficult, but it is essential that we all work toward it. The readings proclaim that we come to know God by being like God.
As to the question of how we can show selfless love, we might reflect on Martin Luther King Jr.’s ideas about love and the Beloved Community: “Love is creative and redemptive. Love builds up and unites; hate tears down and destroys.” King’s vision of the Beloved Community was grounded in love, reconciliation, dignity and respect for all. Poverty, racism, violence and the conditions that stem from these evils are intolerable. By working to end hate and division, fighting conditions and practices that dishonor others, we show our love for one another—and we come to know God by being more like God.