Jesus’ “mission” – his life, ministry and message – was all about Love. When asked for the most important commandment Jesus answered, “You shall love the lord your God with all your heart, and with your soul, and with all your mind, and all your strength” but he followed this with, “The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’. There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31). Another time, Jesus announced a “new commandment” to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34).
The Church, of course, has always embraced this commandment to love. In the centuries following Jesus’ ministry on Earth, many of the Church’s greatest theologians contemplated, and wrote on, the great “love poem” of the Bible, the Song of Songs. This poem opens with the Bride saying,
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth.
Your love is more delightful than wine;
delicate is the fragrance of your perfume,
your name is an oil poured out …
The rich sensuality of the poem’s language has elicited various interpretations. Some commentators have taken a naturalistic approach and regarded it as a literal marriage song that celebrates the love between the bridegroom and his bride; others have taken it as an allegory for the love of God for his people. Still others, like Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), the great Cistercian reformer, theologian and powerful statesman, wrote on the sensual language of the biblical Song of Songs in his commentary on the various meaning of the “kiss”:
For what preserves the glorious and ineffable Unity of the blessed Trinity, except love? Charity, the law of the Lord, joins the Three Persons into the unity of the Godhead and unites the holy Trinity in the bond of peace. Do not suppose me to imply that charity exists as an accidental quality of Deity; for whatever could be conceived of as wanting in the divine Nature is not God.
No, it is the very substance of the Godhead; and my assertion is neither novel nor extraordinary, since St John says, ‘God is love’ (I John 4.8). One may therefore say with truth that love is at once God and the gift of God, essential love imparting the quality of love. Where the word refers to the Giver, it is the name of His very being; where the gift is meant, it is the name of a quality. Love is the eternal law whereby the universe was created and is ruled. Since all things are ordered in measure and number and weight, and nothing is left outside the realm of law, that universal law cannot itself be without a law, which is itself. So love though it did not create itself, does surely govern itself by its own decree (On Loving God, XII).
Ironically, Bernard was also the instigator of the 2nd Crusade, actively promoting it to Pope Eugenius III. We could rightly wonder where Bernard’s recognition of Jesus’ directive to “love thine enemies” (Matt 5.44) went. In fairness to Bernard, however, we recognise that he was a product of his time and his “selective” interpretation of Jesus’ most pressing directive must be seen within the religious and political milieu of the Middle Ages. However, on a smaller scale, we too are often guilty of loving “selectively”.
It is human nature to prefer some people over others, to be attracted to some and repelled by others; to speak harshly of those who annoy or offend us, to avoid those we do not like. Even within families there are often rivalries and “factions” because “he said this and she did that.” Today, everyone is looking to “fall in love” with someone and, it seems, just as many are ready to “fall out of love”. Real love, Jesus’ love, plays no favourites. Jesus simply loves …. without exception. For us, as followers of Jesus, this “simple” commitment to loving totally and unconditionally, is our most difficult challenge.
Good luck on your mission!
– Dr Carmel Bendon Davis, CSO Broken Bay