What Is Love

“I love you 3000.” This iconic bit of Hollywood scripting is such a powerful illustration of our current understanding/misunderstanding about love. The sentimental side of me sheds tears as a child tries to tell her daddy how much she loves him, and in her little head, the number 3000 expresses a huge amount. But then the grownup side of me knows that mere sentiment simply cannot capture the depth of true love and, in fact, can run the risk of us settling for sentiment when real love calls for a robust sacrifice and serious devotion. We really do measure love at our peril by settling for “feelings.”

The misunderstanding of real love in our society has left us with such a sick view of love that we often mistake approval for love. Or we insist that “love wins” means that serious moral choices aren’t relevant to the personal desires of our wounded souls. We condemn any insistence that true love is sometimes terrifying in its demands to wake up to reality and abandon delusions of the passions.

Jesus talks about this kind of love when He speaks to a religious leader of His day who had asked Him to come to his house for dinner. While the Lord was there at dinner, a woman with a bad reputation in the town came in, during dinner, and wept tears at the feet of Jesus and then wiped the tears off His feet with her hair. The religious man saw this and thought that if Jesus knew what kind of woman this was He wouldn’t allow her to touch Him. The Lord replied with a powerful rebuke of the total misunderstanding of love in this man’s heart!

Look at this in our Gospel Lesson in Luke 7:36-50:

“Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “What is it, Teacher?” “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he forgave them both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, to whom he forgave more.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

“He who is forgiven little loves little.” We should not misunderstand this statement of the Lord. He is not saying that there are some who are so holy they have little to be forgiven for. No! The Lord is displaying the spiritual poverty of the delusion that “I am not as bad as (fill in the blank of your favorite excuse for your behavior and choices).” The Lord is throwing into stark relief the difference in the sinful woman’s honest confession of her many sins and the prideful lie that the religious man thinks of himself as righteous when he really is in as much need of a Savior as the woman he so easily condemns!

God’s love calls us to a mutual dependence that challenges our egos and calls us to confront our own depths of our need for forgiveness. You and I have been forgiven by God of a great deal of infidelity towards Him in our everyday lives. We ignore that reality to the very peril of our own souls!

Today, are you really aware of just how much God loves you? Are you allowing the wisdom of the Faith to lead you to deep repentance (the changing of your mind from one of deluded self-justification to the freedom of your true identity as one who NEEDS God and His mercy every moment of every day) that allows you to deepen your love for God as the ONLY Natural response to such mercy and grace given freely to you? Instead of comparing yourself, in hopes of justifying yourself, to others who you think aren’t as good as you are, perhaps it’s time to turn an honest eye toward your own soul and take no notice of others’ sins and wrongdoing. It is only this honesty that will produce the kind of love for God that will set you free from the false “dream” of your own self-righteousness. Today is the day to “love much” and abandon the flimsy illusion of self-sufficiency by being Orthodox on Purpose!

P.S. Dear Lord, help me today to press out the implications that You ARE love. So, if I reduce love to either sentiment or romance, I’m missing the opportunity to learn what true love is. Love is a Person. And if love is a Person, then knowing that Person, and learning from that Person, and following that Person means I can know what love is. And all of that is available to me through Your Church, O Lord because Your Church is Your Body. Help me today to repent of all my false notions of love and keep awake to loving like You Love. Amen.

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