English is a marvelously rich language. It is said that we have
half again as many words as French and Spanish combined. But when
it comes to “love”, English is impoverished (as is Latin,
as well). Greek, which is the language of the New Testament, has
three distinct words that are all translated into English as “love”,
though they mean very different things. In today’s Gospel
Jesus states “As the Father has loved me, so I have
loved you . . .” John’s Gospel uses the word
“love” more times than the other three Gospels combined,
and in the first letter of John, we have the Bible’s only
definition of God: “God is love” – not “God
is a loving person”, but “God is love”. Period.
But “love” doesn’t do justice to the Greek word
it translates in these passages. “Love” implies attraction
and affection. I, the lover, get something out of the love relationship.
The Greek word is better translated as “self-giving”.
This self-giving may include some affection as well, but it need
not. It is simply utter commitment to the total well-being of another.
Read the Gospel again, substituting “self-giving”.
As the Father has given Himself to me, so I
have given myself to you. Abide in my self-giving. If you keep my
commandments you will abide in my self-giving . . .”
In other words, self-giving sums up the commandments.
And again, in case we didn’t get it:
This is my commandment, that you give yourselves
to one another, as I have given myself for you. No one has self-giving
greater than this, that one lays down one’s life for one’s
friends . . .
How much self-giving? One’s own life is the ultimate measure
. . .
And in 1 John, instead of “God is love”, read “God
is self-giving” – self-giving among the persons of the
Trinity; self-giving in God’s creating the universe; self-giving
in the person of God’s son, Jesus; self-giving in Jesus’
not only taking on our humanity, but taking away the power of sin
and death by suffering their consequences and triumphing over them.
This simple substitution brings a whole new understanding to these
familiar words – and a fresh new challenge. Recall: We are
made in God’s image and likeness. Thus we find ourselves –
come into our true selves – only in self-giving.