By Fr. Sergius Halvorsen
Today we are practically drowning in images of so-called “love.” Attractive, athletic men and women, dressed in the latest styles, seductively enjoying each other’s company on the deck of sleek yacht, on a tropical beach, or at a snowy mountain resort. Images like these are everywhere, and the not-so-subtle theme is desire. We are tempted to desire the attractive people, desire the material trappings of success, desire the luxury lifestyle. All of these images tempt us to say things like, “Oh, I just love that!” But what it means is that we desire to possess or consume something, or someone. In other words, we live in a world where selfish desire masquerades as love.
This is not a new phenomenon. Herod had a passionate desire for the opulent wealth of impossible mansions like the one he built at Masada. Herod had a passionate desire for women that he wanted, like Herodius his brother’s wife. Herod also had a passionate desire for the absolute power of a monarch; the kind of power by which a man could be beheaded by a simple command, “Bring me the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” (Mt. 14.8) Herod was not alone. Pontius Pilate also had a passionate desire for power, wealth and influence. At Pilate’s word armies would march, at his word prisoners could be released for political advantage, and at his word troublemakers could be scourged and crucified. Herod and Pilate were men who used their power and influence to satisfy their darkest desires.
While many may claim that they “love something” or “love someone” it is often just greed and lust masquerading as “love.” As anyone who has ever been the object of someone else’s desire knows that desire ultimately fails. The person that once said “I love you” begins to regard you differently. As the newness of the relationship fades, as arguments come up more often, we may find ourselves less and less “loved.” When desire is the fundamental motivation in a relationship, there is no reason to be faithful, after all, if something or someone else comes along that is more desirable then why not go after what makes you happy? John the Baptist and Jesus suffered terribly at the hands of Herod and Pilate precisely because Herod and Pilate were men who were primarily driven by desire, and not by love.
So, what does love look like?
Love is commitment, and we see authentic love in Jesus Christ who loves us precisely when we are unlovable. As St. Paul says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” (Rom 5.8) The Son of God came into this world, lived among us, taught, preached, worked miracles, cast out demons, and proclaimed good news to the poor and liberty to the captives. (Lk.4.18; Isa 61.1) And how was he received? He was rejected, accused of blasphemy, arrested, mocked, handed over to lawless men, unjustly convicted, scourged, humiliated and crucified. If ever God had good reason to turn away from his people, it was when Jesus was crucified. If ever God had good reason to decide that mankind had gone one step too far in sin and arrogance, it was when men decided to kill Jesus. But love is commitment. God’s perfect love is God’s absolute commitment to remain with his people precisely when we are unlovable. And the depth of God’s love is nowhere more perfectly evident than when Jesus prays for the very people who are killing him. “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.” (Lk 23.34) This is what love looks like. When the bride of Christ, mankind, abandons Christ the Bridegroom, our Lord remains faithful. Love is commitment, and receiving this love from God in Christ by the grace of the Holy Spirit, we love others with the same kind of love. We love our brothers and sisters not because they satisfy our desires, but because they are created in the image and likeness of God, and because Christ commands us to love, just as he loves us. (Jn13.34)
Rev. Sergius Halvorsen PhD. is Assistant Professor of Homiletics and Rhetoric at St. Vladimir’s Seminary in Yonkers, New York. He is the associate pastor at Christ the Savior Church in Southbury, CT and lives in Middletown,CT with his wife and three children. He enjoys singing, reading historical fiction and watching his children perform on stage and on the baseball field.