Reflection on Love
By Dr. Danny West, Professor of Preaching and Pastoral Studies at Gardner-Webb University’s School of Divinity
John 13: 1-16
Richard Jensen shares an insightful story about the misappropriation of love. A young couple was falling in love and every Friday night was date night. After dinner, the couple would drive out to lover’s lane to be alone. Their intentions, however, were not those of the other cars parked on the dark road. Rather, each Friday night, they would park the car, turn on the dome light inside the vehicle, and study one chapter a week from a textbook on love given them by their youth pastor. They followed this routine for weeks, and Jensen said, at the end of the study they knew about love in all of its technical glory, they just did not know real love. Love was in their heads, but it failed to travel the short distance to their hearts.
Many equate love with heart shaped boxes of chocolate, overpriced flowers, and fluttering eye lids. Such expressions flow from sappy emotions, and our emotions change from minute to minute. Love, however, is a gritty, endless expression invested in others that desires consistency in all moments of life—love when we feel like, and love when we don’t.
In John 13, our Lord shows us the face of true, messy, exemplary love. It is a final gathering with Jesus and his disciples, and the emotions of confusion and grief weighed heavy upon their spirits. It is no accident that in these final, intimate moments with his disciples, Jesus rolled up his sleeve, grabbed a basin of water and a towel and bathed their feet. Technical love, cognitive love could not do such. It makes no sense to express oneself in such a hum- bling way. But the love we find expressed in the life and ministry of Jesus always bends down, reaches out, and speaks into the messy and complicated places of life. That, my friends, is real love.
As followers of Jesus, we must be careful to avoid reducing God’s love into a cliched set of platitudes and slogans. The church is always good with slogans; sadly, we are not as consistently good with love. The love we know is practical, outwardly focused, and in the spirit of our Lord, “loves neighbor, over self.” That is real love and the kind we desire not simply in the shortest month, February, but in the extended calendar we know to be ours in the Kingdom of God.
Loving God. As we think in terms of the practical nature of love in our community, may we always ground that love in the spirit and in the life, we know through Jesus Christ our Lord. Prod us, we pray, to cease the love chatter we often produce, and to pick up a towel, a basin of water, and love those around us with the tenacious love of Jesus Christ. That is our prayer and we offer it in the name of your son, and our savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.