On the Paradoxical Connection Between Love and Law – A Homily for the 6th Sunday of Easter

050915In the gospel today, Jesus cuts right across the modern Western tendency to oppose love and law, and law and joy. Though we oppose them, Jesus joins all three concepts and summons us to a new attitude. Let’s take a look.

I. Connections – Jesus says, As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete.

Note here how the Lord joins three concepts: love, law, and joy. This is precisely the opposite of what Western culture does. The best that Western culture will admit of law is that it is a necessary evil. While this is the best assessment of it, the more routine assessment is that law is somehow an unloving imposition by the powerful on the weak, the hierarchy on the laity, the (evil, oppressive, Pharisaical, etc.) Church on decent people.

But whereas the modern world disconnects law from love, Jesus links the two. How do we both experience and show love? Jesus says that we do so by keeping the commandments. Jesus sets forth a vision whereby we, having experienced God’s love, desire and rejoice in His commands. We also show love to the Lord through this very obedience and joyful adherence to His commands. And this loving obedience goes even further by setting forth an abundant joy through the very keeping of those commands.

Again, this is completely contrary to modern notions. The “loving” God, according to the world, has few or no rules; He affirms, encourages, accepts, and includes. Or so goes the thinking.

But the real Jesus is far more complex. He is surely loving, especially of sinners. He encourages, includes the outcast, and so forth. But He also speaks of sin and rebukes it. He embraces the sinner, but directs, “Sin no more.” He sets forth a demanding moral vision, even as He shows mercy. In this gospel, Jesus joins love and the law, and says that the law brings joy. They are not opposed; they are not either/or, they are both/and. There was a lot more to Jesus than just being the “affirmer in chief,” who went about saying nothing but pleasant things. In fact He often held many very contrary ideas in tension and balance.

Consider the following portrait painted by Ross Douthat in his book Bad Religion, How We Became a Nation of Heretics.

Christianity is a paradoxical religion because the Jew of Nazareth is a paradoxical character. No figure in history or fiction contains as many multitudes as the New Testament’s Jesus. He’s a celibate ascetic who enjoys dining with publicans and changing water into wine at weddings. He’s an apocalyptic prophet one moment, a [careful and] wise ethicist the next. … He promises to set [spouses against one another and] parents against children, and then disallows divorce; he consorts with prostitutes while denouncing even lustful thoughts. … He can be egalitarian and hierarchical, gentle and impatient, extraordinarily charitable and extraordinarily judgmental. He sets impossible standards and then forgives the worst of sinners. He blesses the peacemakers and then promises that he’s brought not peace but the sword. He’s superhuman one moment; the next he’s weeping.

Douthat goes on to conclude:

The boast of Christian orthodoxy, as codified by the councils of the early Church and expounded in the Creeds, has always been its fidelity to the whole of Jesus. … [Where heresy says which one] Both, says orthodoxy….The goal of the great heresies, on the other hand, has often been to extract from the tensions of the gospel narratives a more consistent, streamlined, and noncontradictory Jesus. [1].

The point here is to note that Jesus, who is love, does not hesitate to teach on many moral topics and warn sinners of judgment. He both personally, and through his inspired Apostles, speaks with clarity about anger, greed, malice, neglect of the poor, divorce, fornication, adultery, impure thoughts, homosexual acts, lack of faith, revenge, dishonesty, the sin of human respect, false and worldly priorities, and countless other things.

In today’s gospel, not only does Jesus link love to the keeping of the commandments, He also says that the keeping of the commandments leads to joy.

Of this, I am a witness. God’s law gives joy to my heart. As a priest, I live as a celibate, like Jesus, and my life is very fulfilling. I have been faithful to my celibate commitment without fail. I have not strayed from proper boundaries; I do not look at pornography; I am not in any way sexually active with women or anyone else. In all this I am not repressed; I am not sad or lonely. My life is joyful; I am fulfilled and see my celibacy as a gift. To those who cannot marry, whether because they are homosexual, too young, or have not met the right person, I say that God can and still does bless you. Living celibately is fulfilling and joyful for those who are temporarily and/or permanently called to it.

The Church cannot and will not affirm or call good what God calls sin, whether it is greed, violence, or (more controversially) homosexual acts or illicit heterosexual acts. In so doing we are not any more unloving, repressed, or sad than Jesus is—and He is none of these things. Neither can we affirm any other acts or attitudes that the Bible calls sinful. These things are all taught in love and they bring joy to those who will accept them.

The Lord is no liar, and He promises that love, His commandments, and joy are all interrelated. I am a witness that this is true. Thus, note the connection between love, law, and joy.

II. The Core – The Lord says, This is my commandment, Love one another as I have loved you. While it is true that the Church, and all of us as individuals, must speak the truth, we must speak it in love. We are not out to win an argument, to overpower, or merely to criticize. Our goal is to love. It is not helpful, and quite likely harmful, to correct people whom we do not first love.

Hence the Lord’s command to love one another is at the core of any preaching or teaching task. There are many today who declare that they do not experience love from the Church, only “denunciations.” It is a hard thing for the Church to convey our love to a large number of people, to a nation, or to a culture. But to the degree that we have failed to love or to convey that love, we must repent and strive even harder both to love and to express that love.

That said, the mere fact that we announce God’s law and summon others to it does not make us unloving. As we have seen above, Jesus links these concepts. There is no doubt that some will take offense no matter what we say or how we say it. But the fact that others are angry or hurt does not necessarily mean that we have done or said something wrong. Jesus, who was sinless, offended many and was a sign of contradiction both then and now.

But as for the Church, we must never fail to ask for a deepening love for all, even for those who hate us, misunderstand us, and misrepresent us. The core of Jesus’ teaching is “Love one another.”

Jesus goes so far as to say that we must be willing to endure martyrdom in order to speak the truth to others. He says, No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Are you and I willing to endure hatred? Are we willing to be spat upon and laughed at? Are we willing to be called hateful, bigoted, homophobic, backward, repressed, intolerant, and so forth in order that others can hear the truth? Jesus was willing because He had the kind of love to stay in the conversation even when many (though not all) hated Him. What are you willing to bear to proclaim the truth in love?

III. Camaraderie – Jesus also links friendship to the knowledge of His law. He says, You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.

And here is another connection that Jesus makes that the modern world rarely does. The world thinks of rules, laws, and commandments in terms of slavery and subservience. But Jesus links these to friendship. A friend knows what his friend is about and gladly seeks to understand and support him. Scripture says, Happy are we, O Israel, for what pleases God is known to us (Baruch 4:4).

Yes, true friendship means seeking to know and understand one’s friend and to accomplish what is important to him. Many today call themselves friends of Jesus but they give Him little more than lip service. A true friend of Jesus is delighted to know His will and to accomplish it.

IV. Call – Jesus says, It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another.” And thus, in the final lines, we are reminded that the Lord, who has chosen us, can and will equip us to live His law, to bear fruit in the keeping of the commandments, and to be someone whom the Father can trust with blessings.

To be rebellious and resentful is to be untrustworthy of further blessings. But here again, the Lord stresses that the keeping of the commandments is linked to love and to further blessings.

The commandments bring joy; they are rooted in love and bring blessings. Do you believe this? Or will you accept the worldly thinking that opposes love and law, law and joy, and law and friendship? The choice is yours. As for me, I am already a witness that the law is love; it is joy; it is friendship. Yes, I am a witness. How about you?

This song rejoices in the Light of Jesus, the clear Sun (Son) of Righteousness, who shows the way to the Father:

9 Replies to “On the Paradoxical Connection Between Love and Law – A Homily for the 6th Sunday of Easter”

  1. ‘What are you willing to bear to proclaim the truth in love? How about you? Are you a witness that the law is love; it is joy; it is friendship?’ I do not know if I can handle going to Islamic countries where GOD weeps and being beheaded by the Isis Muslims to proclaim to them about JESUS, The Truth in Love, nor proclaim HIM in the streets and tell everyone I am a witness that HIS Law is Love and Joy and Friendship. But what I did was proclaim HIM in the family and friends and let them know that I am for GOD and of course, I received ridicule. They know where I stand and sometimes they approached me and ask me guidance. I am a witness in my little own ways. The little sufferings and pains I offer for others that they may find The Truth and I think they feel the serenity in my heart that I found peace and joy in CHRIST. YHWH SHALOM.

  2. It is also my understanding that there is a correct order. If we don’t FIRST love God (obey the Commandments) above all things we won’t have the power to authentically love our neighbor as ourselves. The vertical dimension of the Cross comes first (love for God), then the horizontal (love for neighbor).
    1 Peter 1: 22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere love of the brethren, love one another earnestly from the heart.
    1822 Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.

    Those who are disobedient to the Truth then have a disingenuous love of the brethren. Affirming, encouraging, or facilitating someone in serious mortal sins would be a disingenuous love of the brethren – in other words hatred.

    Also, I wanted to share a thought on offending. Taking offense often has to do with disposition. If you’re not well disposed to hear it well – you won’t. Pray they receive the gift of Faith.

    John 8 John 8: 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44* You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But, because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.

    Our generation has been so emasculated many would likely lose their minds upon hearing this truth.

    1. This is a good point. I had someone say to me, I am paraphrasing: I Love my neighbor as myself, I just don’t Love myself so much. And I said, the answer to that is to follow the FIRST commandment, to Love God with all our heart, mind and soul. Yes, the first commandment is always FIRST because without it we can not Love our neighbor as we should. Sadly there is “disingenuous love of the brethren” as you say.

  3. This is a fantastic essay! Thank you for your wisdom and clarity.

  4. Reading a college kid’s tee shirt the other day reminded me of how words and the hearing of words can change what the words actually mean.

    ” Don’t believe everything you hear:
    Real Eyes
    Real Lies”

    Keeping the proper vertical alignment between God and Humans means keeping the appropriate perspective of who deserves utmost respect, love and consideration. To sum up the Old and New Testament in four words with God saying:” I’m God, You’re Not”

    Offending God occurs when we don’t see to it that His Love Alone is all we need. Only by following His commandments can we be free. And only by praying and doing His Will can we be free. Instead the world keeps saying: Do your own thing, just do it, and if anyone says otherwise, the world calls it hate speech. Humans care only about what offends them, but couldn’t care less if their behavior offends God.

    Two opposing world views appear to be at play here. Aristotle stated that humans fit into this world, because the world has built into it, it’s own sense of order. Aristotle observed that man’s nature fit into the natural order of the universe. Whereas Rousseau stated that humans did not have an inherent nature, and that it was up to man to define his nature and that could mean man recreating himself into whatever man wants. If you look around today, it appears that mankind is trying to be something he isn’t. Whenever man tries to be God, he always comes up short. Redefining marriage is one good example of the mess our world is making for future generations.

    When humans are offended that God has created us to Love Him, and follow his commandments, it is due to the fact that we try to position ourselves higher than God. It takes humility to understand that Offending God is what sin is. We can “offend” others and still be in union with God’s will, if the nature of our actions upsets those who don’t honor those who follow their conscience in doing the will of God and doing what is right.

    The sum total of human knowledge is nothing but an endless series of doubtful memos.

    The sum total of belief in God is Faith, Hope and Love which God bestows as gifts on all who commit to His plan for humanity which is love itself.

  5. Love and Law are deeply connected in the good family. There is a very consistent pattern of psychological research that shows that the family where parents have 1. clearly enforced rules for their children 2. clear lines of communication with their kids and 3. affection, produce well-adjusted children. It is a packaged deal–that is, all three elements work together; remove any one of the three elements and the kids start to have problems. But the rule of Law is the most important. If the Law was never instituted/enforced in the home, (that is, there are no rules of the home) the kids experience a very bad outcome. It’s curious that affection plays a less important role as children grow older, than law or communication. Infants need lots of affection, but the amount needed lessons with age. Perhaps this is because it is deep within the human spirit that Love is fundamentally connected to law and communication, and less so to expressing warm feelings.

    Kids will typically react to the enforcement of law as punishment, a form of anti-love, but good parents know better and often find punishing their children onerous, but a necessary part of parental love. Love is after all and act of the will for the proper good to the other for their own sake. As my wife reminds me, the Israelites saw the Commandments as punishments, but God and the prophets certainly knew better. Some things never change.

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