The word gets thrown around a lot today. “Love” seems to be everybody’s goal, and it seems to have been this way forever. I’m reading a great book now called “How Dante Can Save Your Life” by Rod Dreher, and in it, Dreher gives me some wonderful background on the author of the great poem “The Divine Comedy.” It seems that Dante was a poet in line with many of his day and they all exalted “romantic love” to supreme status. The prose they wrote lionized “love”, especially between a man and a woman, to mythical proportions. And this was normal poetry in the 13th century.
This isn’t very different from our own day when the definition of love in the popular culture has been reduced to romantic feelings and non-offensive support for others feelings with no judgment at all. But is love a feeling?
Look at our lesson today in 2 Corinthians 8:7-15:
BRETHREN, as you excel in everything in faith, in utterance, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in your love for us see that you excel in this gracious work also.
I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. And in this matter I give my advice: it is best for you now to complete what a year ago you began not only to do but to desire, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a man has, not according to what he has not. I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of equality your abundance at the present time should supply their want, so that their abundance may supply your want, that there may be equality. As it is written, “He who gathered much has nothing over, and he who gathered little had no lack.”
St. Paul begins our reading today by encouraging the Corinthians to “excel in this gracious work also.” To what “work” is he referring? Remember a few devotionals ago when we were talking about Paul’s missionary journeys and his letters to the Corinthians when I mentioned that there was a famine going on in the areas around Jerusalem? Well, St. Paul and St. Timothy were traveling together to several of the parishes started by the Apostle collecting funds for the believers back in Jerusalem to provide practical aid for their fellow believers there in the area. Paul has had a complicated and stormy relationship with the Corinthian parish, but his founding leadership wins the day with the faithful.
Remember, Corinth is a very cosmopolitan and major city of the Roman Empire at this time and it is also the home of some very wealthy believers. Even though Paul has had to seriously correct the Corinthian parish in his first letter, this second epistle is all about helping the Corinthians to see beyond their problems and not focus on themselves.
And that’s the key to the love that the Christian Faith celebrates. Love that focuses outward, not inward. And this outward focused love isn’t passive, isn’t merely well-meaning, isn’t hidden, or ingenuous. The love St. Paul insists be the center of the Corinthian believers’ lives is the love we are called to embrace as well. And this love, if it is going to be “genuine” love, is active and visible.
This “genuine” love is seen in its earnestness of others. This “genuine” love is seen in always comparing my love with God’s love and striving to match His love for me in my love for others. This “genuine” love finishes what it starts and realizes that “my abundance” has been given to me to supply the lack of others so that, when I am suffering in lack, their abundance can minister to me! It’s all about understanding that love can certainly be emotional and have tons of feelings, but that the danger is these very feelings and emotions will intoxicate me to think I’m done with the feeling. I’m not, ever. “Genuine” Love works. Love does. Love acts. Love makes God’s love tangible and visible. If it’s hidden or merely reduced to “good intentions” it hasn’t yet reached the level of “genuine” love!
Today, is your love “genuine?” Do others notice your love for God, for others, for your neighbors, for even your enemies? If you had food and your neighbor was hungry, would your love move you to share? Does it? What about how you share your spiritual “food?” Does love compel you to share your faith with spiritually hungry people around you? If you have “genuine” love, you can never be satisfied with an emotional feeling or good intentions. To be Orthodox on Purpose means to physically display God’s love to all around you.