The story is told of how, on a lecture tour of the United States, Karl Barth was asked to sum up his entire theology in one sentence. Apparently Barth used the children’s song “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so”. There are those who think this story to be apocryphal, but, whether it is or not, I think it sums up Barth’s theology succinctly (ok, those parts of his theology I have read up to this point!).
There is no doubt that “love” is vitally important in Jesus’ teaching. The word, in its various forms, appears over 25 times in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) and in various situations. Obviously some of these occurrences are the Evangelists recording the same story.
Jesus hears the encouraging words about the Father’s love for him at his baptism (Matt 3: 17, Mark 1:11 and Luke 3:22) and at the transfiguration (Matt 17:5, Mark 9:7). He says that to be his disciple we must love him more than even family (Matt 10:37).
The most important other occurrences are two important injunctions about our love for others. The first comes in the sermon on the mount/plain (Matthew 5:43-46 and Luke 6:27-35). But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44) and Luke’s expansion on the theme, “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:35). I need to qualify that the enemy is the person who hates you not somebody you hate. Love of enemies and doing good for them is a radical reversal of human ways of acting. Jesus loves me so I must love my enemies.
The second injunction is the one to love the Lord and to love our neighbour (Matt 22:37-39, Mark 12:30-33 and Luke 10:27). I just want to comment on the Marcan version of this because in Mark we have the reply of the teacher of the Law making a remarkable statement. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mark 12:32-33). Jesus commends this unnamed teacher because he understood that “love” is much more important than religious observance.
The media often speak of “people of religion”. Jesus in the Bible gives scant weight to religion. He doesn’t seem to value its observance very much at all. He heals on the Sabbath and associates with some rather dodgy women! Jesus is less interested in what you do in your religion and more interest in how much do you love others. The teacher of the Law is not far from the kingdom because he understands this. The kingdom of God is more definitely NOT about religion. Love God…with everything, and love your enemies and your neighbour…however distasteful, as you love yourself.
These are two startling assertions by the Gospel writers. The true love of God is seen in the love of enemies and that love is above any religious observance. What a radical way to live!