Year B – 6th Sunday of Easter

On Agape Love

(Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48; 1Jn.4:7-10; Jn.15:9-17)

We all need love, don’t we? So many of us dream about it, write about it, sing about it, read about it, talk about it, work for it and cry over it.

Many years ago, teaching English, my most popular lesson was on the language of love. The students were so fascinated by the words we use for love that they didn’t want to go home.

This desire for love is deeply embedded in us all. We’re all made to love, and we all need to be loved. We can see this in our families and friends. If they feel unloved, we know they’re unhappy. If we feel unloved, we are unhappy.

Where does love come from? St John the Evangelist tells us: it comes from God. Love isn’t something God does, however. He is actually love itself (1Jn.4:7-8). And because we’re all made in God’s image and likeness, we, too, are meant to live lives of love. Not sometimes, but always.

Church tradition tells us that St John was still preaching well into his 90s. When he was too frail to walk, he was carried into church, and every week he gave the same sermon: ‘My dear children, love one another’. That’s all he said.

One day, someone asked him, ‘Master, why do you always say this?’ John replied: ‘Because that’s the Lord’s command. And if that’s all we do, it’s enough.’ [i]

This command to love is in John’s Gospel today, and it immediately follows Jesus’ Parable of the Vine and Branches, which we heard last week. Clearly, love is the fruit Jesus wants us all to produce.

But what kind of love does he mean? The Bible mentions four different kinds and in Greek, each has a different name. [ii] Storge (‘Storjay’) is family love. Eros is sensual and passionate love, and Philia is close friendship or brotherly love.

Agape (‘Aga-pay’), however, is the supreme kind of love and the one Jesus calls us to. It’s holy love. It’s the way Jesus loves his Father, and the way God loves us all.  John uses the word ‘agape’ when he says that ‘God is love’ (1Jn.4:8).

Agape love is selfless, like Jesus humbly washing the feet of his disciples (Jn.13:1-17).

It’s unconditional, like the way that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God (Rom.8:38-39).

It’s merciful, like the way the Father warmly welcomes his Prodigal Son, despite all his foolishness (Lk.15:11-32).

And it’s sacrificial, like the way Jesus accepts a painful death on the Cross instead of abandoning us.

Agape love is serious love. St Teresa of Calcutta understood it well. She saw the face of Jesus in everyone she met, and she cared deeply for the sick and dying in the streets of Calcutta. It was hard work, but by staying close to Jesus she always received the graces she needed to keep going.

During World War One, a soldier asked his commanding officer for permission to go into ‘No Man’s Land’ to rescue a badly wounded friend.

‘You can go,’ said the officer, ‘but it’s not worth it. He’s probably dead already and you’re risking your life.’ 

The soldier did go, and somehow managed to retrieve his friend. They both tumbled back into their trench. Watching this, the officer said to the soldier, ‘I told you it wasn’t worth it. Your friend is dead, and you’re badly wounded’.

‘But it was worth it, sir,’ the soldier said.

‘How do you mean, “worth it”? Your friend is dead,’ the officer said.

‘Yes, sir,’ the soldier replied, ‘but it was worth it, because when I got to him, he was alive, and he said to me, ‘Jim, I knew you’d come.’”

Agape is selfless, unconditional, merciful and sacrificial love. It seeks nothing in return.

This weekend, as we celebrate Mothers’ Day, we are deeply grateful to our wonderful mothers, not only for giving us life, but also for giving us so much Agape love. Let’s close with Rudyard Kipling’s short poem Mother o’ Mine (1891):

If I were hanged on the highest hill,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
I know whose love would follow me still,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
If I were drowned in the deepest sea,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
I know whose tears would come down to me,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
If I were damned of body and soul,
I know whose prayers would make me whole,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

May we, too, truly live lives of Agape love.

[i] St Jerome, Commentary on the Letter to the Galatians, 6:10.

[ii] C.S. Lewis explains these terms in his book The Four Loves, Harcourt, Brace: New York, 1960