Re: What is love?

To me, love is defined by unwavering patience and unconditional benevolence. It requires selflessness.\n\nThe Reverend Paul R. Abernathy, Rector at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Washington, DC, stated in 2007 that love requires "unconditional benevolence." You can listen to the delivery at:\n \n\n"I don’t like being hurt. No great surprise. I don’t imagine any of us likes it.\n\nI also don’t like those who hurt me. Again, no great surprise. I imagine that any of us might find it difficult to be civil, let alone kind to those who have treated us uncharitably.\n\nThis is true for me especially when the one who has hurt me is someone I like. When I like someone, it means that I have found something favorable, admirable about that person. And my very act of liking often lulls me into the sleep of forgetfulness. I forget that any other person is another person. Therefore, one who has another way of being and doing, and, therefore, inevitably will hurt me. The converse is also true.\n\nWhen I have been hurt, I naturally ask myself how do I respond?\n\nDo I do unto the other as I perceive the other has done unto me? That notion is at the heart of that ancient principle of justice, lex talionis, Latin for law of retaliation. Lex talionis, drawn from the Hebrew scripture "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,"[1] at its best, is meant to provide a basis for proportionate retribution so that, as the adage says, the punishment fits the crime. Lex talionis, at its merciful best, is intended to limit the severity of retaliation so that one receives no less and no more hurt than one has caused.\n\nProblem is that lex talionis works best when the matter at stake is minor and material. It is far more difficult, even impossible to make fair exchange when the issues involve one’s values and principles, identity and integrity, even dignity – whether that one is an individual, a family, a tribe, a clan, a race, or even a nation. An even greater problem is that if lex talionis were followed literally, we’d all end up blind and toothless. A still greater problem is that lex talionis simply doesn’t work. We humans have demonstrated historically, repeatedly that the only limit to our vengeance is the size and efficiency of our capacity to retaliate.\n\nWhy am I talking about this on so wonderful a day? A day when we baptize?\n\nBecause baptism is all about community. And there is no way to be in community without risking the possibility, the inevitability of being hurt and causing hurt.\n\nAnd although I don’t like to be hurt nor do I like those who hurt me, on this day, we hear the words of the Jesus – who we, as baptized, pledge to follow – saying, "Love your enemies."[2]\n\nDoes this word about enemies really apply to our relationships with our families and friends, our intimates and close associates, our fellow parishioners? Yes! Because they are precisely the ones, being closest to us, who can hurt us most often and who often hurt us most. And when they do, they are the ones who often become as enemies to us, and, as they are closest to us, we can hurt most.\n\nSo, whether we are talking about someone who, more traditionally, is an enemy – someone distant and different, unknown, therefore, unliked – or someone close to us who, having inflicted hurt, becomes an enemy to us, the counsel is the same. Love your enemies.\n\nAssuming that Jesus meant – and that Luke hadn’t misunderstood – what he said, let us take his word seriously. What is Jesus asking of us?\n\nI do not believe that Jesus calls us to love our enemies with the familial affection of philia or the passionate intimacy of eros. Either, by definition, would be utterly impossible! Rather, Jesus calls us to love with the unconditional benevolence of agape. Jesus calls us to love as God loves.\n\nThis is a paradox. At first glance, it makes no sense. How can we love as God loves? But at its heart, it embodies deepest truth, for agape, again, is unconditional – an active compassion, the offering of which is not based on how we have been treated. That makes sense, for how else can we love our enemies who have hurt us, except with an unmerited love?\n\nJesus doesn’t tell us how to do this. He only describes what this love in action looks like. Do good. Bless. Pray. Turn the cheek. Give. In other words, be patient.\n\nPatience – from the Greek, makrothumia – describes that state in which we have been wronged in the worst way short of being killed, for which we want vengeance, which we have the capacity to carry out against the one who has wronged us who stands right next to us, yet, we actively refuse to use our power to avenge ourselves. In fact, we, exercising the patience of agape love, so continually refuse to retaliate in kind – knowing that at any time, we could – that we allow time and space for the possibility that our longing for revenge might be overcome by our desire to forgive in the spirit of the one who said, "God, forgive them, for they know not what they do."[3]\n\nIt is this agape love alone that makes possible relationships that abide. It is this love alone that makes possible abundant life within our communities of families, friends, associates, and churches. For it is this love alone that can turn enemies into friends and friends who have become enemies into friends again.\n\nNow, let us baptize, knowing that it is into this life, this love that we bring our children. May we be empowered and prepared to show them how to live and to love this way, for we are the only way they will learn it – or not.\n\n[1] Exodus 21.24\n\n[2] Luke 6.27. The gospel passage appointed for the day is Luke 6.20-31.\n\n[3] Luke 23.34"

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