There is no quality unique to human nature that is prized and cherished more than love, and for good reason; love is one of the only external outlets through which we can express our likeness to God. But what does love really mean? Is its praise by Churchianity one of the few things that they got right? That'd be a yes and a no. Of course love is important, and Jesus taught that love towards God and man is always important. But can the counterfeits concept of love be easily transferred onto True Christianity? Once again, that's a yes and a no. Allow me to explain.
First we're going to separate the wheat from the chaff by determining what love is not. As Paul cleverly wrote: 'love [...] does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking; it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices in the truth.' ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 What is implied here is that where humans are imperfect, love is perfect. Where we stumble, it walks smoothly. How many religionists and religious leaders today could have such qualities applied to them honestly? None of them. But Jesus said that we are to be living and breathing embodiments of his love, just like he was a manifestation of God's (John 15:12).
Since we're the light of the world, like Jesus was, isn't it expected that we act like him? How do we act like him? Do what he said (you can read my article "10 Things Jesus Taught" for an expansion upon this thought. Now, as humans, Jesus knows that we will never be perfect in our lifetimes, just like no one will ride a bike their whole life without crashing or falling every once in a while, no matter how long they've been riding. But we can't just sit there with untreated scrapes, bruised elbows, and road rash on our hands in the mud with our bike sitting upside down right next to us; how pathetic would that be? All bikers get up, wipe themselves off, pick up their bike, and keep moving, maybe a little slower next time.
'Greater love has no one than this: that he would lay down his life for his friends.' Ancient words, but they still hold meaning for us today. If you love someone, you would make yourself uncomfortable or take away from your prosperity for their equality. If you love your child, you'll be willing to suffer through the worst of kids' movies to make them happy. But Jesus did more than suffer through a movie. He took our sins, our pain onto a cross (Isaiah 53:4). Naked, before us all, he underwent the worst of humiliations, and he died. But before that, he said that it was Consummated, or 'paid in full.' His final words; haunting. But as we all know, he came back, with power and authority from on high, and with proof he was who he said he was.
But if love rejoices in the truth, why do parents and spouses lie to their children and each other in order to 'protect them?' If their child or spouse truly loved them to begin with, they would be glad that their husband or wife or parent was honest with them. If they didn't, they would be angered, and they would hold it against their parents. Even when we do forgive others, what do we say to warrant their forgiveness? A simple 'I'm sorry' and a 'It's okay.' I myself never understood it when my second grade teacher got frustrated when we said that. It's because she knew that neither of us were truly feeling sorry nor compassionate, and the 'It's okay' only furthered that thought by forcing us to minimize our initial reaction to a sin against use, and allowing them to end the interaction having learned nothing.
I've repeated this sentiment many times in these last few months I've been first studying the gospel, but I'll say it here: God is not your pal. He hates you as an individual rebellious person, but he loves you as his beautiful and wonderful creation. Confusing, right? Imagine the disciples' shock and awe as Jesus turns and yells at all of them on what started out as a lovely day about how they all need to hate their family and even themselves (Luke 14:26-28). How loving does that sound? To a young, indoctrinated, confused me, that saying of Jesus must have simply not ever been said, and was made up by atheists. But that is a genuine statement, and it was loud, even for its time. On occasions such as this, many would call for proper context for a verse such as this. Yet only one verse of background accompanies this, and it says a lot about True Christianity.
Luke 14:25 says, "Now many crowds accompanied him, and he said to them,". Is this what Jesus got so worked up over? Yes. 'Since when was he afraid of crowds?' you might be asking, 'he taught and did miracles near them all the time'. Jesus was never afraid of crowds, that much is correct. He was angry that they listened to him, and were still spiritually deaf; he was angry that they saw how powerful and wise he was, and were still spiritually blind; he was angry that too many of these 'followers' were counterfeits simly going along for the ride. Sure, there were a few good eggs here and there, but most of it was bad. Like any bad offshoot, he wanted to cut it down before it took root and became too big for the Church to handle.
How does this tie in at all to loving? Let me tell you a little parable that I learned a while ago, and thought it would make more sense if I said it like this:
There once was a rich man from a long line of Belarusian millionaires, who lived in an amazing apartment in New York City. He was richer than his dad and mom combined, was their sole heir, and had many rich friends in the real estate business. After ten years of hard work, he had amassed billions upon billions of dollars in authentic 1906 Vienna snow globes, each worth hundreds of thousands of dollars each, and his collection was something he boasted about more often than his Belarusian heritage. One day, while he was doing a routine lookover of a huge chunk of land potential development project, he found a small sign hidden in the tall grass that said in the obscure Belarusian tongue:
Дзесьці ў гэтай галіне ляжыць самы першы арыгінальны венскі снежны шар Гэта адзіны рэальны Венскі снежны шар, які калі-небудзь існаваў; ўсе астатнія з'яўляюцца падробленымі і зробленыя ў Кітаі, or Somewhere in this area is the very first original Viennese snow globe This is the only real Viennese snow globe that has ever existed; all others are fake and made in China
Upon learning this, he returned to his apartment and checked the bottom of every single snow globe in his collection, and sure enough, there was a sticker on each of them that said, 'Made in China.' Feeling deceived, he soon sold all of his billions of dollars worth of 'authentic' snow globes to a variety of pawn shops in the Manhattan area in the hopes that this would be enough to buy the chunk of land; sadly, the old owner of the land said that it wasn't enough. So he sold his apartment; it still wouldn't account for the damages the city caused him in locust infestations. So he sold all the clothes off his back for a giant can of Raid spray; he killed all the bugs, but the old man desperately needed a cookie for all the trouble for these last forty years of locusts. The man bought him the most delicious homemade cookie in the history of cookies, which cost him his wife and children, who were angered that he sold their Christmas presents. Finally, the old owner of the field requested that he promise to donate every cell of his body for immediate scientific research upon permission to own the land. Unfortunately, the 'research' consisted mostly of tomato throwing, pie smashing, napkin tearing, and the disapproval of his parents, who promptly sailed back to Belarus upon removing him from their will. Once all of this was done, the man awoke to find that the old man had moved out of his shack in the field, and all that was there was serene peace and tranquility. He later wrote all of this down in an unfinished memoir titled 'The Sound of
Music Tomatoes', which would go on to be be adapted into a feature film and earn seven Oscars. When recounted in the book, he said that he would do it an infinite number of times if that was what took to earn the field.
If you've read the Gospels in any way, you might have recognized that this story is a reworking of the Parable of Hidden Treasure, based on Matthew 13:44-46 (with some artistic license, of course). The point of this parable was not that you should have pity upon the man, who died penniless and in a field without human contact for the last lonely decades of his life. Hehappily and voluntarily sold all that he had to buy that field. But that's the cost of discipleship, my friend; there is no other way to salvation.
Loving our neighbor must involve our sacrifice of our comfort and our life, so that they can be comfortable and have a good life. Some people might say that's a waste of life, but that's what they said about Jesus too. Goodness knows how your parents would react to this. Some might be neutral, some aggressive, and some weeping balls of emotion. But in all, you need to hate them and love them at the same time. Never forget about your parents and family, or even yourself, but always remember that they are never why you do anything: God has to be. If your parents demand you stop preaching the gospel and come home, don't do it. If they ask that you come and visit your hometown, you can do that. These are the boundaries that, sadly, the world cannot understand. If they are not vehemtly against the Church, then they are a friend of it; nothing good can be done without God. Amen?