Spiritual Reflections

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I’ve been thinking about love. Probably you have been, too. I don’t want to take away from the chocolates and the cards and the shiny jewelry of Valentine’s Day last week. But I have been thinking about a different kind of love.

The original language of the New Testament stories of Jesus and letters to the early church utilizes several different Greek words that are simply translated as “love” in English. That doesn’t fully translate the original intention. We must dig into the language a bit to understand the distinction and thus understand what God in Jesus is asking of us.

For instance, there’s a Greek word, eros, that represents the love most of us had in our heads last week. It is a love of passion and desire for another. And there’s the Greek word philia for a love that is about affection for another person with whom we have an established relationship. It’s a loyalty-in-friendship kind of love.

And then there’s the Greek word agape. It’s a kind of love Jesus expects of and gave for his followers. It’s the love of the cross, a self-sacrificing love for others. It is a love based in action, not words. It is a love that is demonstrated, not just felt. It is a selfless love for another. It’s a love that gives all the we have for another child of God, whether they are family, friend, stranger or foe. It is the highest form of Christian love. It is the love that Jesus has for you. And it’s the love that Jesus asks of you.

We see this love demonstrated in the good Samaritan story in Luke’s Gospel. It’s a story told to a man who wanted Jesus to be clear about who his neighbor was. Probably he wanted to find a loophole in the requirement of loving one’s neighbor so he could wiggle his way out of loving someone he didn’t really want to.

In the story, the least likely character, the Samaritan, helps a man he comes upon who has been beaten, binding up his wounds, carrying him essentially to a local hospital for care and paying for the man’s needed help. He demonstrates a love for a man he didn’t know. He just happened upon the man in need, and he acts in a loving way.

If we say we love God, if we say we love Jesus, then this is the response Jesus asks of us. If we love Jesus, we will love our neighbor, even our forgotten and despised neighbors. We will love the most unlovable and estranged people with a love that is an acted-upon, selfless love. It’s feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and providing shelter to the homeless, care to the sick, a companion to the lonely and left out, a presence to those in prison.

Agape love brings food to a neighbor in need. Agape love advocates for others by getting to know them and getting involved in their lives. Agape love goes out of its way to notice and get engaged with the least, the lost and the left out and gives all that it has to meet their needs. Agape love doesn’t sit on its hands and bemoan the systems that create injustice and inequity. Instead agape love notices and then does something about it.

Followers of Jesus are called to love like Jesus loved, with this deep agape love for people we might not know, for people we might not like, regardless of any other factors. It is an undeserved love given anyway. It is a gracious love that pours out everything for the other.

I challenge you and your family to find ways to love with agape love. I challenge you to love with all that you are and all that you have and then to talk with your children or grandchildren about it.

Love like Jesus loved.

Becky Jo Messenbrink is the lead pastor at Glendale United Methodist Church in Savage. She is one of several area people who write for “Spiritual Reflections,” a weekly column appearing in this newspaper.

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