God does not ask me, much less does He command me, to like you. He doesn’t ask or command me to like anyone! And that’s a very good thing because it means I’m not required to like Fr. Doran who’s always making up crazy stories about me!
But I digress.“To like” means, according to Webster, “To get pleasure from something.” As in, “I like coffee.” Or to regard something or someone in a favorable way, or to feel affection for someone or something. “To like” is about the affections. That is to say, the emotions. But “to love” is about will. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” says the Lord (Mt 5:44, Lk 6:27). For many years I believed this to be the most impossible of all the commandments given to us by our Lord to observe. You see, I had mistakenly believed that our Lord was asking me to like my enemies, and nothing could be further from the truth.
Our Lord does not ask you or me to like anyone, but commands us to love everyone. If I were to tell our Lord that I like St. Michael’s and that I like you (and I do!), I suspect He’d say to me, “That’s nice.”
Nice is as different from good as like is from love.
I don’t know if the Lord likes me, but I’m convinced that He loves me. Not because of any virtue of mine but because He is good. He is absolute goodness.
People are sometimes scandalized by the God of Jesus Christ and by Jesus Himself because they read the Bible looking for a nice God rather than a good God. Around 3,500 years ago, the Lord God led Israel out of Egypt, out of slavery, and He led Israel to the Holy Mountain, to Sinai, and there He gave Israel His commandments. God had proven to the Israelites that He was all-powerful when He defeated the gods of Egypt, and He was in the process of proving that He was trustworthy because He was keeping the promise that He had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give to them and their descendants a land to dwell in. But at Mount Sinai, at the Holy Mountain, He did something every bit as great as all that, and inseparable from Him. The Lord revealed that He is good, not simply all-powerful, not simply trustworthy, but good. He revealed that He is a moral being.
At the Holy Mountain, Moses came before the Israelites and he built an altar of stone with twelve pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel, and on that altar he sacrificed oxen and he took the blood of the oxen, the life of the oxen, drained it into bowls, and then he read all the words, that is to say all the commandments, of the Lord to the Israelites. and the Israelites responded and said that “all that the Lord has said, we will do, and we will be obedient.” And Moses took half the blood of the oxen, of the sacrificial beasts, and he threw it against the altar and the other half he cast onto the Israelites and he said, “Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you this day in accordance with all His commands” (Ex 24:8).
When we hear the word of Christ today, “All of you drink of this cup, for this cup is the new covenant in my blood,” (Lk 22:20) we need to hear the word of Moses, casting the blood of the oxen onto the Israelites and saying, “Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you this day.” That is precisely the old covenant. You cannot have a new covenant without an old one.
The Lord gave Israel His commandments to reveal His moral being, His goodness, and to invite Israel to participate, to share in His goodness by observing His commandments. He didn’t give Israel the commandments for His good, because we can add nothing to His goodness. He gave Israel the commandments so that by receiving them and observing them, Israel could share in the goodness of God, could participate in His goodness, and be a sign in the midst of all the other nations of the goodness of God.
The only thing that anyone can possess greater than the word of God, greater than the commandments of God, is the author and definitive interpreter of those commandments, that is to say God Himself, Jesus Christ our Lord, which is the one we are here to receive today. In fact, the only thing that God did not give to Israel was Himself. And the climax of everything that God wills to do is to give Himself to us.
The pagan philosopher Aristotle argued that happiness is an activity of the soul in accord with the good. Whatever the disciples of Aristotle may think he means by that, the part that has always interested me is that Aristotle grasped the inseparable connection between happiness and goodness. No goodness, no happiness.
I’ve been guilty of saying that I just want my children to be happy. But I think I’m mistaken in this. Rémi Brague is a French professor of Arabic and religious philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris and a German university in Munich. He is also more importantly — at least to my mind — a Christian, and recently the author of a book titled, On the God of the Christians (and On One or Two Others). It’s a slender but profound meditation on the God of Jesus Christ, the Most Holy and Blessed Trinity. The book provides a critically important clarification of Who God Is in our very troubled and confused times. And in it, Brague the Christian philosopher makes this observation about the God of Jesus Christ:
God does not seek our happiness. He does not seek our unhappiness. He seeks our good, which is to say, our sanctification. Our good, in other words, is God Himself.
And all of this is about love because to love in the way that Jesus our Lord uses the word is to seek the good of the other, and the greatest good of anyone, the ultimate and final good, for which every person has been created from the first to the last, is God Himself, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
To love another is to seek to bring the other into a relationship of faith with Jesus Christ so that through Christ the other can know the Father and live in communion with Him through the Son. It is in this way that we can love everyone and anyone. To love another is to seek the other’s good.
Thus, I can love my enemies, even my enemies, not to mention those I don’t like and wouldn’t invite into my home. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” says the Lord (Lk 10:27). “Love your enemies and those who persecute you,” says the Lord (Mt 5:44). “Love one another as I have loved you,” says the Lord (Jn 13:34).
To love is to seek the good of the other. And it is necessary to understand this in order to understand the word of God for us today. “If you love me,” says the Lord, “you will keep my commandments” (Jn 14:15). To love another person is to seek his good. But we cannot seek the Lord’s good because He is goodness itself. Therefore the form of the love of God is to keep His commandments.
How can we know that Jesus loved God the Father? “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father” (Jn 14:31).
No goodness, no happiness. No obedience, no love.
We know that God the Son loves His heavenly Father because He does what the Father commands Him to do. “I came,” says the Lord, “not to do My own will, but the will of Him Who sent Me” (Jn 6:38). And that’s the only way the world will know that we love God.
Hear then the word of the Lord:
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 (Jn 14:23-24).
If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love just as I keep My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things have I spoken to you that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be full (Jn 15:10-11).
To love God is to keep His commandments. And when I keep His commandments — and only when I keep His commandments — do I love you as Jesus loves me.
This article was written by Fr. Ivor Kraft and published in the 2016 Summer Messenger. The image is a monumental painting “Moses receives the 10 commandments” in Saint-Etienne Church of Mackenheim taken by © Ralph Hammann – Wikimedia Commons.