Climbing the Ladder of Love

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

— Jesus (John 13:34-35)

Jesus gives his disciples this famous commandment to love one another. Can you command someone to love someone else? That just doesn’t seem right! There are some people in my life that I don’t necessarily have a lot of good feelings for, let alone love. I am not sure I can summon up the necessary feelings to love on command.

Acts of Love Are the Bricks of God’s Kingdom

The good news is that isn’t what Jesus is commanding here, or at least not in the way I often think about. In fact, when Jesus gave his most famous teaching about love, he didn’t talk about emotions or feelings at all. Rather, he gave the disciples a lesson they would never forget. He took a towel, wrapped it around his waist, and proceeded to do the dirtiest job there was in his day: he washed their feet. Obviously, he meant his lesson to be practical. He taught that love is a practical, helpful action for someone else. It doesn’t have to be grand; small actions that build up another are the bricks of the kingdom of God.

What About the Feeling?

But what about the emotions of love? Here is how I think about it. Ideally, yes, the feelings and actions of love will match in a profound union. Most of us have to grow into it. But Jesus does not want us to wait until we ‘feel’ love. He wants us to act now, whether we feel it or not, and to do good, regardless of what is happening in our heart. Then over time, as we walk in the way of Jesus’ generosity, our heart will be changed as well. We will grow in maturity until we learn to love people as God loves them.

Growing in Maturity

Our Christian lives can be seen as climbing a ladder of love, growing in maturity and depth. What is at the highest rung? The Russian Christian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky gives us a glimpse: “Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in all things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love.”

I confess I am not there yet! But Jesus isn’t asking me to be. He is asking me to start simply today: how can I practically show acts of love and generosity to the people around me? I believe this is how we are going to get through this pandemic: acts of love and generosity. This is the stuff of God’s kingdom.

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