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Jesus and the love commandment

Raulston
Nembhard

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

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In his frequent discourses with the disciples as the cross cast its long shadows before him, Jesus frequently emphasised that his disciples should love one another. In his summary of the law he said that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind and strength, but we should also love our neighbours as ourselves.

The integrity of both the moral and prophetic traditions hung on this love for God and love for the neighbour. There is no characteristic that better defined the reality of the new life into which they were entering and the community that would be built by the apostles and which would continue long after them.

The church today has to remember that it stands in the strong tradition of the gospel that has been handed down through the work of the early disciples of Christ. It is in this continuity that the authenticity and integrity of the Christian message is to be seen. At the centre of the Gospel is the imperative of the love commandment which Jesus emphasised to be at the core of his brief ministry while he was here among us.

In parables and practical demonstration, he showed what this love was about. At the core, it was one that was self-giving without counting the cost. It was not transactional expecting something in return for a good deed done. Thus, it was not calculating or conditional, but freely expressed. Most importantly, the humanity of the person being loved and cared for was the centre of love's concern. The best definition of this love can be seen in two of the most powerful stories (parables) that Jesus told-that of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 29-37) and the lost (prodigal) son (Luke 15: 11-32). Even a cursory reading of these parables will reveal the true nature of agapeic (self-giving) love. It is a love that has great regard for its object and is not defined by the class, ethnicity, or social standing of the person. It was predicated solely on helping the one in need, no matter what group he belonged to.

If the Church today is not demonstrating this kind of selfless regard for people it is not living up to its identity as a community that believes in and follows the teaching of its Lord. Other institutions in society can cast away people with whom they disagree but the Church has to be open to them and give them a listening ear. Importantly, it must love them no matter which group they belong to. And loving them means being willing to extend help and care to them, even if others should regard them as strangers in their midst. If the Church is really living up to the demands of the great commandment to love one another it cannot but show compassion and generosity, especially to those who differ radically from them. It was this generosity that marked the formation of the early church, that made it attractive to others and which caused it to spread so rapidly throughout the Roman world.

We are merely playing church today if generosity and compassion are not the crowning virtues that drive the church's presence in the world. Jesus said that people will know that we are his disciples when we love one another. It is very instructive that he did not say that discipleship is defined by how magnificent our church buildings look, how 'good' and orderly our worship services, how much we pay our offerings, how often we attend these structures, or even the volume of work that we purport to do for the Lord. We can do all of these things and at the end of the day come up empty where our unconditional regard for persons is concerned.

In addressing the homosexual question, I see people as Jesus would see them in their essential humanity, as individuals not to be written off and condemned but to be listened to with care and compassion. This is how I believe that Jesus would do it. I do not have to agree with them, but as a minority group in society that has had to suffer by being marginalised, and violently attacked at times, they should not be singled out with contempt for special scorn. This attitude, in my view, does not reflect the mind of Christ.

It is in this context that I asked the question why is the Church so angry with those who disagree with them. One is not saying that you have to agree with the homosexual lifestyle, but in Jamaica one does not get the feeling that most churches would have a welcoming attitude towards them. Although he did not condone the woman's adultery, Jesus was at least willing to listen to her and even protect her from the predations of the self-righteous crowd that had gathered to stone her. That is the epitome of love in action.

Many in the church today have already formed their opinion about the gay community. They do not only condemn the sin, but even moreso those they regard as sinners. Jesus would not marginalise or chase from his presence those with whom he disagreed. He would show empathy and give them a fair hearing. I can do no better than to ask for a fair, open, and compassionate hearing for one of, if not the most despised community in Jamaica and the Caribbean. This is what I believe following in the footsteps of Jesus would be like.

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Observer or stead6655@aol.com.


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