Obedience Is Nothing without Love

One question that I asked as a nonbeliever and that I still quietly wonder about as a believer is this: when Jesus rose from the dead, why did he only show himself to the people that were already his disciples? If the resurrection is proof of Jesus as the Christ and Savior of the World, then it seems only natural to wish that Jesus would give that proof to more people, so that the whole world might be Christian. It seems like, instead, he rather preached to the choir.

Yet, I feel a bit guilty carry this doubting question around with me.

I shouldn’t.

Turns out that I’m not the first one to ask the question – no big surprise there. The surprise for me, however, came when I learned who it was that asked the question first – and to whom it was asked. (Some of you may already know the “who” and “whom” of which I speak, but, please remember, with mercy and forgiveness, that I am not an accomplished reader of the Bible.) One of Jesus’s own disciples asked it to Jesus himself. And on hearing and understanding the answer given to the one asked, I was washed in a well-contented sense of rightness and joy.

It happened when I was watching a movie. Of course, it was not just any old mindlessly entertaining movie, but rather one of those new “Christian Faith” movies – The Gospel of John. Although I have probably heard or read all of the words spoken by the narrator before, the words of the Gospel struck my ear and my mind in a new way – and, thankfully, penetrated into my heart. The scene of the Last Supper came on the screen and the words of the Discourse came through the speakers. Jesus was saying that he would reveal and show himself to those whom he loved.[1] And then one of his very own apostles asked Jesus, face-to-face, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”

Good question.

Jesus didn’t rebuke the apostle in the slightest, but willingly gave answer and, of course, said it all:

“He who does not love me will not obey my teaching.”

Give yourself a moment to take that in. When first hearing them in the narrator’s voice, the words caught in my mind and then needed to be processed further, like a fish that is caught up in a net and then needs to be pulled onto the boat.

You see, Jesus only showed himself to the people who loved him because showing himself – even himself all resurrected and glorified – to people who didn’t love him would have made no difference. They may have been like spectators of David Blaine magic, flabbergasted and admiring, but merely exclaiming “Cool trick, man!” Rather, he showed himself to those who loved him because he promised that he would. They were grieving and mourning his death – and he came back to them. Although Simon Peter denied even knowing Jesus three times before the Crucifixion, after the Resurrection Jesus gave him a second chance to be true to what was in his heart. “Peter, do you love me?” And every time that Peter affirmed his love for him, Jesus gave reminding command to follow his teachings.[2]

The profound beauty and joy here is that Jesus is telling us the same thing now: Jesus reveals himself to people who love him, because the people who don’t love him will not obey his teaching – even if he showed himself to them, they wouldn’t care. What Jesus knows, and what we should all know, is that in order to be able to follow Jesus Christ and obey his teachings, a person must love him.

Without love for Christ, there is no Christianity.

As believing Christians, we want Christianity to be better respected and more embraced by the world. We naturally want more people to attend church, near and far. We would like to see pews full of people reciting the Creed aloud with us and identifying themselves as Christians. We would like them to obey the teachings of Christ and live good, Christian lives. But… in order to do any of this, people must first love Christ.

Christ himself said that, unless they love him, people will not obey him. It is only people who truly love Christ that are freely willing to obey him – because to do so is a natural expression and substance of that love. We can’t put the cart before the horse. We can’t expect people to reach for the high ethics and ideals of Catholic Christianity without love for Christ himself. I can’t expect myself to do this.

So… in my heart I am asking, “But, Lord, where are you that I may love you?”

I am hungry and need to be fed… I am homeless and need to be sheltered… I am ill and suffering and need to be cared for… I am homebound, and I am stuck in a nursing home, and I need to be visited… I am in prison and I need to be loved… I am a stranger and I need to be welcomed…[3]

I do not have to look far to find Christ here with me, in the flesh and blood of my fellow human beings. My family member is angry or sad – do I love? My friend is burdened – do I love? My neighbor is in great need – do I love? If I love the least of the people around me, then I love Christ. And if I love Christ, then I love the least of the people around me. It’s a profound circle that only has its beginning and end in God – for we can only love because God first loved us.[4] When we are open to divine love and give ourselves to that love, then Christ more fully reveals himself to us, and our love deepens and grows evermore.

One other question:

As we are supposed to evangelize, how are we to teach others to love Christ?  

Everybody who truly loves goodness and truth is already in love with who Christ is – whether they know it or not. The best way that we can teach others about Christ himself – and, perhaps, the only true way that we can really teach them – is by sharing our love for him with them. We love Christ Jesus in all that he is and in all that he has done for us. If others see the deep sense of joy and peace that comes from our love for Christ, love that is manifested in our love for neighbor, then they will come to know him through our love and, in knowing him, they will love him, too. And when they love him, they will want to follow him. They will obey his teachings – not out of superstition or blind adherence to rules, but out of love – and he will reveal himself to them more and more.

© 2015 Christina Chase


[1] John 14:15-24

[2] John 21:15-17

[3] Matthew 25

[4] 1 John 4:19

2 thoughts on “Obedience Is Nothing without Love

  1. You thoughts of love enforce my love of Christ and it is in how we express that love to others whether family friends prisoners or home bound only further expresses Christ’ s love to all. Thank you for sharing your questions of faith and your insight as it gives me clarity in my faith journey.

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    • I am ever grateful that you are reflecting with me. Thank you for all the ways that you share Christ’s love with others, both loved ones and parishioners. May God heal and uplift your family, now and always.
      Pax Christi
      Christina

      Like

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