Thursday, May 10, 2007

Did Jesus have favorites?

Did Jesus have favorites? My Lutheran pastor posed this question last Sunday. I have been reading a collection of essays by Thomas Merton (a Trappist monk) and last night I came across this:

"When all this has been said, the truth remains that our destiny is to love one another as Christ has loved us. Jesus had very few close friends when He was on earth, and yet He loved and loves all men and is, to every soul born into the world, that soul’s most intimate friend. The lives of all the men we meet and know are woven into our own destiny, together with the lives we shall never know on earth. But certain ones, very few, are our close friends. Because we have more in common with them, we are able to love them with a special selfless perfection, since we have more to share. They are inseparable from our own destiny, and therefore, our love for them is especially holy: it is a manifestation of God in our lives."

I thought about the few people in my life who I love terribly. I counted 11, including 4 people in my immediate family. I guess I always had a vague unease bordering on guilt that I did not love more people in this way, which had the effect of making me suppress my affections for these few. I never considered the idea that my love for these few might be a special gift from God, even holy. But when I stopped to consider each of these relationships one by one, I think it is true. They are not infatuations. Not one of these people have I known less than three years – I know them all well enough to know their flaws. Most are men, but not all. Most are wiser than me, but not all. What they all seem to have in common is that I see something of Christ in them that I do not see in myself - and one is not even a Christian! In another part, Merton has this to say:

"Love not only prefers the good of another to my own, but it does not even compare the two. It has only one good – that of the beloved, which is, at the same time, my own. Love shares the good with another, not by dividing it with him, but by identifying itself with him so that his goodness becomes my own. The same good is enjoyed in its wholeness by two in one spirit, not halved and shared by two souls."

I am amazed to find that these relationships really do fit this description, so I can only conclude that they are, indeed, manifestations of God. I firmly resolve to enjoy them more.


Xavier Martel said...

What a thought-provoking post! I think it has led me on to a revelation. But first, some sophomoric housecleaning:

1. At an Easter mass in Florida, the (rotund) pastor got laughs out of the congregation with some observations of John's description of how he and Peter came to the Tomb. According to John, he, the young, athletic disciple, arrived at the tomb first, while Peter, the fat old disciple, came panting up much later. Hee hee. But he (the pastor) also refered to John's self-description as "the disciple whom Jesus loved." Not having been exposed to the sola scriptura camp, I'm not sure how Biblical Literalists would interpret John's self-description. Do they view it as idiomatic, or as a real distinction between John and the other disciples? (I have been told that the gays interpret it as homosexuality). It is easy for us who view the Bible as God's word spoken through men to suspect self-aggrandizement in John's gospel, certainly when we see the disciples arguing as to who would sit at Christ's right and left hand. In any case, there seems to be a distinction.

2. John, at the cross, is given charge of Mary, while Peter is given charge of the Church. You could argue about who got the easier (or better) job, or crack a joke about Christ giving the Church to Peter since he didn't entirely trust him to care for his mother after the "cock-crowing" incident. But in any case, we have here again distinction being made.

3. Now I know that the above are pretty irrelevant, because they are contingencies. Further, Christ's treatment of his own mother bears testimony to an equivocality in his love toward humanity, when Mary arrived with "his brothers" and was treated as one among many.

4. However, "many are called, few are chosen." While I execrate the Calvinist/Zwiglian/Presbyterian concept of an elect or chosen, there is this troubling scripture to deal with. This would be much easier to accept if it read "many are called, few answer."

Now, on to the thoughts your post awakened that I think are worthy of consideration...

I assert that Christ was able to love everyone completely and equally because He trusted everyone completely and equally. Love leaves one defenseless, when it is truly practiced. Jesus had no need of defense, because He loved, and therefore completely trusted God.

This reveals the necessity of the "golden rule," the reduction of the ten commandments into two. Love God completely. Then love your neighbor. It is clearer to me now that the first is a precondition for the second. You cannot love completely unless you love God completely, for otherwise you will always reserve some part of yourself as a defense, to lesser or greater degree, whereas complete love for God carries with it (or requires) complete trust in God, which renders defense superfluous. Great love for people (caritas or agape) is always present with great love for God.

As for practical (personal) considerations, I am struck by how love is under assault from those who preach it most openly. That is, love is cheapened; driven out of its home, love must wander from place to place, never settling for long. The modern troubadours have reduced love to saccharine, and I find myself affected by this in how I view the word love. I know that my concept of love is different from God's definition of love, and therein lies a barrier. This is one of the reasons I am so greatly relieved by Benedict's Deus Caritas Est and Sacramentum Caritatis. The Greek Prism of agape, philia, and eros allows me to accept and try to practice agape and philia without fear of being mistaken for eros. Whereas for modernity, eros is the entirety of love.

Miguel Cuthbert said...

Maybe its the German in me, but I have come to understand that love, perhaps more than faith, is an act of the will. As our pastor said it is possible to love someone we dislike even finding them repulsive. Perhaps that is what is meant by caritas - a love that overcomes. The love Mother Teresa had for the poor and the love St. Francis had for the leper. The same love that God shows us when he forgives us.

This love is a love that can be taught. Chesterton said "The way to love anything is to realize it may be lost."

There is another kind of love which comes through intimacy which is probably what you and Merton are talking about. That's the only way we can understand what he meant by "only a few close friends."

If I had as many friends as Jesus I would consider myself lucky. When we think of Jesus' friends we always think of Peter, James, and John as the closest to him. But what about th other apostles, the disciples, and beyond these people like Lazarus and his family? But only to the first three did Jesus reveal the most intimate details.

But would we consider Peter's love of this second class? As we discussed before we had this strange scene between Jesus, Peter and John on the shore. Peter was called to a greater intimacy with Christ but was always somewhat reserved ("Leave me Lord because I am a sinful man.") this is why so many of us identify with Peter but the great mystics identify with John.

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