Love Is A Choice to ObeyFr. Barnabas Powell
At the risk of really dating myself with this movie reference, I remember the movie “Love Story” and the famous line from the film “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
Hey, it was the early 70s and we were just coming out of the tumultuous 60s. We needed a bit of saccharine sweetness!
But does love really mean never having to say you’re sorry? Really? Is our understanding of authentic love really encompassed by such a shallow sentiment?
All rhetorical questions, I know. Hopefully, it also asks us today to consider our understanding of love itself. Because if we get the definition of love wrong or if we fail to constantly strive to fill up our understanding of love, the consequences to our everyday lives can be huge! We could end up not really knowing authentic love at all, or worse, falling for a caricature of love and living in the prison of delusion! And make no mistake, we were made to know true love in our lives. In fact, our faith insists that we understand God as Love Himself. Miss Love, precious friends, and you will never truly know God. Never truly know God and you can forget ever really becoming yourself. Sounds important to me.
Our Gospel lesson today comes from John 14:21-24:
The Lord said to his disciples, “He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.”
The Lord insists that the natural result of true love is obedience. But what is it about obedience that really shows we love God?
First, obedience displays trust. Sure, you can obey out of fear of punishment, but you don’t have to love someone you fear. Jesus ties obedience to love in such a way that we begin to understand that when I love God I desire to hear Him and I trust He knows me best and wants what is best for me. I trust God and that trust flows from the fact that I love Him. And this trust has the added benefit of actually growing my love for God! Obedience flows from trust, and trust encourages obedience, and that grows love!
Second, obedience displays faithfulness. Notice the Lord used the word “keep” in reference to His word. It isn’t just that we “do” what God says, but we hold and treasure the Word of God (by the way, the Word of God is a Person – see John 1). We so treasure the wisdom of God and the Person of God that we expend the energy, time, and resources to preserve and propagate His Word from generation to generation. For this reason, we pass on our devotion to and for God to our children. A faithful person is an obedient person. These virtues are inseparable!
Finally, obedience displays communion. What I mean by communion is that we are as tied to God as a branch to a tree. Eventually, the branch becomes so like the tree trunk that one can’t really tell the “two” apart! I am moving in a “symphony” with God, to the point that the “family” resemblance is so strong there is no doubt as to Whom I belong. “That boy looks just like his daddy!” This is exactly what we Orthodox mean by “deification.” Our love draws us deeper into the healing of God’s image within us! We become “like” Christ! And it all starts with an act of our will to obey!
“That which is done in secret” This is the answer Jesus gave to St. Paisius, the Great when this holy saint asked the Lord which was the greatest virtue. St. Paisius was born in Egypt around 300 AD and lived such an exemplary life he was trained to be a monk by the great Abba Pambo of the desert. He fell asleep in the Lord at an advanced age and his holy relics still work miracles to this day. St. Paisius learned that exercising his will to obey God would so form and shape him in holiness that the great saint would be truly free to love God above all things, even his own temporary comfort.
Today, is your definition of “love” large enough to spur you on to greater devotion to God; to obedience? Is your “love” in need of a makeover? Would you like your definition of “love” to stretch your soul into a larger vessel to hold more of God’s presence in your life? Plainly, know that your level of obedience is a direct indication of your love for God! Period. With this in mind, perhaps now you can see why we must always be encouraged to a life of repentance and growth in spiritual maturity. It’s why we love God so much so that we can be Normal; Orthodox Christians.
P.S. With godly anthems, come, ye faithful, let us all acclaim the godly-wise and truly venerable Paisius, the true citizen and ornament of the desert, the most noble peer of Angels, the true friend of Christ, and the glory of monastics and ascetic Saints. Let us cry to him: Rejoice, O Father Paisius.