There’s no word so misused in English language as the word “love.” Hence, the teenage girl who justifies moving in with her boyfriend by saying, “I love him” fails to understand the difference between her statement and that of her dad who drops her off at school, kisses her goodbye and says, “I love you;” or yet another statement by her classmate who says, “I love mission work;” and accordingly, during spring break, chooses to go to some hunger-ravaged part of the world to serve children suffering from kwashiorkor. While an English person will use the same word ‘love’ for the three expressions above, a Greek person would have used three different words. This makes it difficult to interpret Jesus’ words in today’s gospel, given that our English Bible uses the same word “love” where the Greek Bible says, “agape,” “eros,” or “filia.” In fact, one of the words for love, “eros,” which means sexual attraction never appears in the entire New Testament; and while “filia” (affection or friendship) in all its variations appears 45 times, “agape,” which means divine or sacrificial love is found 320 times. So when I say “love,” in the course of this reflection, I say it with tongue in cheek.
Jesus didn’t just emit the “I love you” expression as we so often hear it today—from celebrities, for whom “I love you” means, “buy my line of products, or music, or movie, or vulgarity, or primed body poses;” or from politicians, for whom it means, “vote for me;” or from every pimp or lustful person out there, for whom “I love you” means, “I want your body as apparatus for money or pleasure.” Jesus tells us that He draws His love for us from His Father—“As the Father loves me, so I also love you” (John 15:9). It may sound clumsy, but next time you want to truly tell someone that you love them, you can use Jesus’ formula and say: “As God loves you, so also I love you” or “I love you with the love of the Lord.” By saying so, you indicate that you’re not after their body for pleasure, or their approval, or whatever else they can do for you. This is love made in heaven, love free from deceit, greed and pervasion. It is the only way that Jesus instructs us to love one another; anything short of this might be a glandular or thrill-searching exploit, not love.
The tragedy is that many persons, including followers of Christ, have never genuinely loved another with the love of God. Many live under the illusion that they have deep affection for another while it’s only their ego that is “projected into the other person” (F.J Sheen). What is loved, according to Sheen, is the pleasure desired from the body of the other person—like desiring to eat the frosting on the cake while ignoring the cake itself. As the sugar that coats the cake cannot transform into cake, so pleasure cannot replace love. It is out of His generosity, and to fulfill His own design that the Divine Lover chose to coat even eros with pleasure. For without the pleasure of eros, humans may never engage in it and procreation would be hampered. I once heard someone say that, without the pleasure attached, the sexual act could be utterly repulsive both for the energy it saps and its awkwardness. Who can offer to drink a shot of another’s saliva? This explains why rape, which compels another to engage in the sexual act, is criminal. Although eros generates tremendous thrill, it is also the greatest cause of anxiety, depression and neurosis that afflict the multitude to whom lust and love are identical. How many lives have been wrecked by eros? How many children have died in the abortion mill as a result of this mismatch? How many are left without a father or guardian? Eros has dominated our literature, our media, our politics, and worst, our schools. Our sight and sound are insulted daily and steadily by it. It is a siege.
But the love of God is greater than the mind can imagine. St. John tells us that love isn’t just a feeling or an idea, but a person. “God is Love. He who abides in love abides in God and God in him.” May we truly love one another.
Fr. Chukwudi Jo Okonkwo