7 Epiphany, February 24
Hating those who hate you is natural. Anger, rage, and the desire for revenge are built-in components of our animal being from which we will not, in this life, entirely escape. We live in the trap of our destructive emotions and the repetition of pointless and painful thoughts. Worry, jealousy, anger, and rage conspire to drive out all love from human life (Ps. 37).
And yet love is the source of life and the only true purpose for living. “Without love whatever we do is worth nothing,” the Collect for today says. Love is “the true bond of peace and all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you.” Why? God is love and love is the cause of all being. Without love, nothing is.
We know something of love, but we know it in truncated form, trimmed down to personal and social advantage, a kind of social contract. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again” (Luke 6:32-34). While there is no extraordinary credit to such love and goodness and lending, it provides a social bond, stability, and a measure of trust, though within only one group. The outsider makes no claim on one’s love. The stranger is a threat.
Mutual love for mutual advantage is itself often tested, strained, and damaged by destructive emotion and behavior. Romance, for instance, however beautiful and good, has an undercurrent of strong and nearly uncontrollable emotion. Some of this poison may infect nearly any loving relationship. “I hate and I love,” the old poet wrote. “Perhaps you ask why I do it. I don’t know. But I sense it and I am crushed” (Catullus, 85). Crimes of passion and much smaller offenses are caused by the deadly mixture of love and hate. What are we to do? Our love is narrow, and our love is weak.
Humanly speaking, we cannot save ourselves from the stew of our emotions and thoughts. We hate and we love. Jesus says, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27). But how? St. Paul, in a beloved passage, speaks of justification, peace, access to grace, sharing in glory and suffering, all of which he sees rooted in the miracle of love: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rom. 5:5). “Men can never wrest love unto themselves, and make it their own possession,” Karl Barth writes about this verse. “They can only continually receive it afresh as something shed abroad from above. Such love, which is God’s work, is possible only because he first loved us.” God’s love is his life and being, poured as a transforming elixir, into human lives so that love transcends old limits.
We know it when we see it. “Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph. Is my father alive?’ But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.” They stood in fear and they expected hatred. “And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them, and after that his brothers talked with him” (Gen. 45:3, 15). Divine love happens and tears fall because God dwells among human beings.
Look It Up
Read the Collect for 7 Epiphany.
Think About It
Grant us love.