Dear Friends in Christ,
There is a lovely Jewish proverb which captures, as only proverbs can, something so true about love: ‘Love thy neighbour, even when he plays the trombone.’ Imagine that neighbour playing his old trombone late into the evening – it would truly be hard to have very warm feelings for him, let alone love him, wouldn’t it? Love, rather like forgiveness, is a great idea until we really have to dig deep and love.
GK Chesterton said: ‘We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next-door neighbour.’ The problem is – and it really is a problem – that, for the Christian, love isn’t an option or a fanciful idea we can take or leave: it’s a command. Jesus says so very clearly: ‘This is my command: Love each other’. And if this weren’t hard enough, the pinnacle of love, its very height and essence, isn’t half-heartedly tolerating people, putting up with them or bearing with them, it’s laying down your life for them. This is the kind of ‘greater’ love we are called to. Jesus said: ‘Greater love has no one than this; to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’
This is so challenging, so utterly beyond us, do difficult and frankly impossible that if we truly understood the call to love, we would throw up our hands in despair, sigh deeply and say, ‘This is impossible.’ Nevertheless, if we were open to the Holy Spirit we would hear him say to us: ‘What is impossible for you, for man, is possible with God.’
For perhaps the key to understanding love, the self-sacrificing agape love of the gospel, which is prepared to love your enemy, who just happens to also be your neighbour, is that we can’t love like this without God’s grace and power. Perhaps we only truly begin to love when we reach the end of ourselves and recognise our complete inability to love in a self-sacrificing, giving-our-lives-for- others kind of way.
‘Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ, vere latitat – the glorifier and the glorified, Glory himself, is truly hidden.’ (C.S. Lewis)