What does Love look like?

Image Source: The Guardian

Aristotle taught us that Virtues stands in the middle. He invites us to pursue moderation. To him, temperance is the queen of all virtues. Vice is defected by excess. The challenge of this doctrine pushes us to seek a meridian point and avoid all excess. But this middle does not give us a good fix on the new commandment of love. The person of Jesus does not seem to stand in the middle. He transgresses this meridian point. We can clearly notice that his life, teachings and death tilt towards excess. His life is not one of excess of dominating power and inflicting violence. It is one of excess of gift. It is one of taking an extra step and walking an extra mile. He is not guided by the principle of sufficient reason of the philosophers nor by Aristotle’s rational man. He is living an excessive life with an excessive love that is never tired of reaching out to the needy and the lost. The only measure of his love is to love without measure. His love cannot be tamed by the middle point. Such half-hearted love is no love. His love is fully spirited. It is warm and not cold. It is not confined to those who comfort him but is extended to enemies. Excess is the gradient of his love.

His love bacons us to love. But we have to be careful. Love can blind us. we can be blind to crimes in the name of love. For the love of Jesus we may end up becoming violent and utterly fail ourselves as followers of Jesus who taught us to love those who do not love us. Love inserts us into what we may call chaosmos using James Joyce’s term. Chaosmos is a creative disorder that takes us into a new cosmos/ order or can also push us down on a lower rung of chaos. This means love brings us to the threshold of the impossible. Where there is impossible, there is God. This is why we can forgive like Jesus and do unimaginable selfless acts to the point of giving our life. Love is marked by the madness of forgiveness, generosity, mercy, and hospitality.

The love that Jesus taught, died and rose for is not dead. It dangerously lives in his memory. This is what makes love that resides in the memory of Jesus political. ‘The dangerous memory of the crucified body of Jesus poses a threat to a world organized around the disastrous concept of power, something that is reflected today in the widespread critique of the concept of “sovereignty”—of the sovereignty of autonomous subjects and the sovereignty of nations powerful enough to get away with acting unilaterally and in their own self-interests’ says John Caputo. The lingering memory of the love of Jesus expressed on the cross continue to subvert/ deconstruct theologies of omnipotence that underlie all forms of sovereignties. The crucified Christ stands for the power of the powerless and thus subverts theologies of omnipotence and challenges us to celebrate the ‘weakness’ of God over the power of the world.

The politics of love is the way of the cross. It is a politics of the impossible. To understand the threshold of the impossible, let us take the example of the selfless widow in the Gospel (Mk.12:41-44). Impossible is like the widow who gave without giving. This means she gave what she did not have to give while she gave all that she gave. Jesus saw the gift of the impossible and praised her selfless gift. It is in this sense the love that Jesus lived and taught is impossible. It challenges us to give what we do not have. Like the poor widow, we are challenged to gift our all. It challenges us to embody the memory of Jesus and become love. We have the challenge to embrace the impossible. It is an invitation to love without closure or ending. Love that loves the unlovable/ the enemies is always endlessly forgiving. Such love is deconstructive. Like faith that move mountains, love can move enemies. It can bring about the reversals that we see in the Gospels (LK.1:46-55) It can become good news to the poor. Maybe St. Augustine aptly describes the power of this powerless love when he says, ‘What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like’. In a word, love looks like Jesus. This is why it is by our love that the world will know that we are the followers of Jesus. The model that Jesus sets up for us is impossible in the Derridian sense.

In fact, we are to live love by following the way of the beatitudes (Mt. 5.1-12). Beatitudes are a model that makes a virtue out of meekness, mercy, humility, and poverty, and everything that the Roman world mocked and despised. This is why they are impossible in the eyes of the world which seems to say if you want peace, get ready for a war. The impossible that we have been discussing tells us if you want peace begin loving. The war doctrine seems to have come from the throne of Constantine and not from the cross of Christ. Not everything is just in love and war. It is a worldly compromise and not evangelical counsel. War is not the peace that Jesus gives us. It is love, forgiveness, mercy and compassion that gives us peace. This is why to make peace, we have to love. Like love, peace also resides in the impossible. The prophet Isaiah famously inaugurated the messianic times with the words: ‘they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks; nations shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more’ (Is. 2:4). Isaiah’s zoo-theology even effectively describes messianic times with the images of the grazing of the cow and the bear while the lion chooses to eat grass and the infant plays by cobra’s den and the toddler reaches the viper’s nest (Is.11:7-8).

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao