Loving God and Our Neighbor to the Limit (Sat. July 31)

The word for the day is “sorrow.”  How far can love go?  What are its limits? St. Porphyrios wrote, “He who loves little, gives little.  He who loves more gives more, and he who loves beyond measure what has he to give? He gives himself” (Porphyrios 2005, 96).

In our reading of Romans 9:1-5, Paul expresses the extent of his love for his fellow Jews.  He says, “I have great sorry and continual grief in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh” (OSB vs. 2-3).  Today we probe into this depth of love for others, and it inspires us also to seek to love to the extent of giving ourselves for others.

In today’s passage, Paul reveals the grief over the rejection of most Jews to the Gospel.  He says that “great sorrow” fills his heart. That phrase refers to severe emotional distress, the kind of heaviness of the heart that is emotionally devastating (Strong’s #3077, 153).  The apostle’s expression of his intense grief may be surprising to us since his anguish is over the rejection of the Jews to his preaching of the Gospel.  By the Lord’s call, Paul became the champion of the Gentiles.  He has argued forcefully that the church should not apply the Jewish Law to the Gentiles since Christ has fulfilled the Law.  He even has written that their faith has grated the believing Gentile onto the tree of God’s Promises. Yet to his distress, the disbelieving Jews have broken off from that tree of salvation.

Why Sorrow Fills Paul’s Heart

It must have caused the apostle deep sadness when time and again, he would proclaim Jesus as the Promised Messiah in the synagogue only to face rejection and even violent opposition.  So why has sorrow for his opponents filled his heart? In today’s short passage, we find several reasons.  St. Paul is a Jew himself and the Israelites are his fellow “countrymen” (OSB vs. 2).  More than that, the Jews are those whom God adopted as His people.  Through them, God gave the covenant and the Law, the true worship of God, and His promises (OSB vs. 4).  And through them, He sent His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, into the world (OSB vs. 5).

With this in mind, we can begin to grasp why St. Paul says that he would wish even to be accursed for the sake of the Jews if only they would turn to Christ.  In Romans 8, he wrote the glorious hymn that “Nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).  But now, in our reading, he declares that he would be willing to be cut off and separated from Christ if the Jews would believe and the Lord would restore them to their inheritance.

For Reflection

The kind of love that St. Paul expresses is remarkable. He would even suffer God’s curse and exchange his inheritance of the kingdom for the sake of his Jewish relatives.  But let’s recall that the Lord Jesus did become accursed for our salvation.  The Apostles says in Galatians, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’)” (Galatians 3:13).

May we not only admire this self-giving love. May it be the goal and purpose of our lives. St Porphyrios wrote, “One thing is our aim–…Love towards Christ and towards one’s neighbor, towards everyone, including one’s enemies. The Christian feels for everyone; he wants all to be saved, all to taste the Kingdom of God” (Porphyrios 2005, 97).  But love is more than a wish, an attitude of kindness, and a feeling of concern.  Love is the active giving of oneself. Thus Paul writes, “And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma (OSB Ephesians 5:2).

We Love Because He First Loved Us

Are we capable of such sacrificial love? Must we be a saint like Paul to possess such love and to endure rejection, persecution, and even death for it?  The Lord said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (OSB John 14:34).  And the apostle says in 1 John, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought to love one another (OSB 1 John 4:9-10).  These texts teach us that love is a command, and an obligation (Strong’s #3784, 184).  But it is also the result, a consequence of the love of God.  Thus the apostle writes, “We loved because He first loved us” (NIV 1 John 4:19).[i]  We might say we love “inasmuch” as He has love us.

We are able to love as Christ loves when we know and accept the love of God. It is like a candle.  Candlewax is solid and hard until it warmed with a flame. But then it became soft, then liquid.  The wax flows, and it gives itself to the burning of the fire.  So also, the love of Christ melts our hearts so that they burn with love, burn not only for Him but for everyone and everything without distinction.  And in that burning, we offer ourselves to bring the light of God to the world around us.

Works Cited

Porphyrios, St. 2005. Wounded by Love: the Life and the Wisdom of Saint Porphyrios. Translated by John Raffan. Limni, Evia, Greece: Denise Harvey, Publisher.

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