Love One Another
It is fortuitous that the 10th anniversary of 9/11 has fallen on a Sunday, and I hope pulpits everywhere resonated with Jesus’s message in the Sermon on the Mount:
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Earlier this summer, we spent an unforgettable 10 days participating in the C.S. Lewis Foundation’s triennial Oxbridge Conference, held at Oxford and Cambridge, and featuring an array of the most inspiring, talented, intelligent, provocative, and thoughtful speakers, performers, and leaders from across a rich spectrum. One morning’s thought-provoking message was delivered by Richard Kannwischer, Senior Pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, CA, on the subject of that most-favored concept of our time, “tolerance.”
By substituting the word “tolerance” for “love” in many familiar passages, Rev. Kannwischer effectively made a vitally important point, and it’s an exercise I urge you to try with any passage, song, or quote, dear to your heart. For example:
How do I tolerate thee? Let me count the ways.
I tolerate thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, …
I tolerate thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! — and, if God choose,
I shall but tolerate thee better after death.
Surely no lover would succeed in wooing the object of his tolerance with such lack of passion.
It is an excellent reminder that while a call for “tolerance” is all the rage these days, God has called Christians to a more difficult standard: Love.
It may indeed be impossible for mere mortals to achieve this calling—how difficult to contemplate loving one who just caused us grievous loss through exercising their own blind hatred.
But, search as I might, I can find no attribution to Jesus of anything but clear commands that we must love—not sometimes, not some people, but always and everyone:
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
When asked “Who is my neighbor?,” Jesus responded by telling the Parable of the Good Samaritan—Samaritans and Jews traditionally hating one another—helping a stranger, a Jew robbed, beaten, and passed by by his fellow-Jew and a priest.
Jesus modeled just how far this love and mercy was to go, using his last strength to enter a plea for the agents of the evil empire who were torturing him to death:
Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.
Indeed, throughout his short life, Jesus was consistent and unequivocal in his message:
A new command I give you: Love one another.
If you love me, you will obey what I command.
For the first few hundred years following Jesus’s life, his followers stayed true to his dictates, and as Rodney Stark has shown in The Rise of Christianity, this fledgling movement grew exponentially, despite widespread persecution and martyrdom at the hands of the Roman empire. Of those followers whose deaths are recorded, a theme of emulating Jesus’s call for forgiveness for their persecutors runs throughout.
Today, American politicians claim to be Christians while unleashing unspeakable horrors on innocents abroad, and imposing growing tyranny on the formerly free people they were sworn to serve. Is it any wonder the number of Americans calling themselves followers of Christ shrinks year after year?
Yet “Love one another” is what people just do, naturally. In the aftermath of every disaster, natural and man-made, stories abound of extraordinary acts of heroism, compassion, and charity by common folk to utter strangers. Government, by contrast, exploits tragedy to aggregate power unto itself, using fear and fomenting hate as its greatest allies. I suspect that left to ourselves, most Americans would have accepted that the events of 9/11 were caused by a small band of zealots and would have happily egged on the efforts of those who proposed going after the perpetrators on an individualized basis, not to be hated but to be honorably held accountable for their acts. Instead, we let ourselves be duped, and the consequences have been horrific, indeed. Which ought to leave us running back to Jesus: the most powerful tool against any and all evil is indeed to Love one another—and that means letting none of God’s children be victimized, no matter how many claims are made that “the ends justify the means.”