Love in Practice

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Then one of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said:   “What are you willing to give me that I should hand him over to you?” They determined on thirty pieces of silver for him.

Matthew 26: 14-15

In today’s first reading from Isaiah we hear:  “The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.” (Isaiah 50: 7) The description of the Lord’s servant is of one who every morning the Lord “wakes . . . to hear, to listen like a disciple . . . .” (Isaiah 50: 4) The description we are given is of one who is bound in love and dedication to the Lord. It is of a life which receives form from the word that it hears each and every morning and which is then given form throughout the day in accord with that word.

The face of the servant is set “like flint.” There is a rock-like determination that is required of the one who gives oneself in love to another. To be loved and to give oneself in love to another requires the reorientation and reformation of every level of one’s being  It is a reordering of life in which devotion to the beloved takes precedence over every other attraction and desire. Thus, the first act each day of the servant of the Lord is to “listen like a disciple” to what the Lord asks and then to do what is heard throughout each moment of that day. It is to become single-minded, pure of heart, so that in each moment all of one’s efforts are in service to the word that has been received.

Matthew’s version of the plot to kill Jesus, features a striking contrast between two characters. There is Judas, who is willing to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver and, perhaps, whose devotion to Jesus has been but pretense, and the unnamed woman of the verses immediately preceding who pours out all of the precious ointment from the alabaster flask over Jesus’ head in what Jesus understands to be preparation for his burial. In Matthew’s gospel, unlike John’s, the woman is anonymous and apparently unknown. Also in Matthew, it is all the disciples, not just Judas, who accuse the woman of being wasteful.

The great contrast is between the calculation of Judas and the wastefulness of the woman. Isn’t it true that, from the purely rational point of view, there is always something wasteful about love. Many years ago, when we were teenaged novices at the beginning of our religious formation, a friend of one of my classmates visited him. My classmate told me afterwards that after but a brief time visiting his friend said to him: “If there’s no God, you people are crazy.” As young as we all were, there was a deep truth in the comment. The life of the novitiate, in those years, was a very strange life for a young person to be living. It was, in many ways, a rejection of the values that were most valued by the culture. Perhaps my classmate’s friend could understand better when, later in life, he would come to love his family to such a degree that he would put aside on their behalf many of his own personal wants and desires.

At the core of our faith tradition lie the words of Deuteronomy:  “”Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut. 6: 4-5) Jesus follows his Father’s word and call to the end. Throughout the passion narratives we see one whose face is set “like flint” toward the carrying out of the work he has been given to do. In Matthew’s gospel we see an unnamed woman who does the same. She does not turn back or away from Jesus’ impending death nor the threatening atmosphere closing in around him but rather pours out the sign of her love in preparation for his burial. On the other hand we see Judas and later, to a lesser degree, the other disciples, whose love and dedication waver in the moment of “the test.” Throughout her life Dorothy Day was formed by a line from Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov:  ““Love in practice is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.” As we revisit and relive the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus this year, may we examine the reality and practice of love in our lives.

If we love each other enough, we will bear with each other’s faults and burdens. If we love enough, we are going to light a fire in the hearts of others. And it is love that will burn out the sins and hatreds that sadden us. It is love that will make us want to do great things for each other. No sacrifice and no suffering will then seem too much.”

Dorothy Day

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