What does it mean to love as God loves?

By Fr. Jack Treloar, SJ | For The Compass | January 26, 2022

When Jesus, in the synagogue of Nazareth, talks about the widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon and Naaman the Syrian, he provokes a terrible response from the people. To understand this reaction, we must recall that the Jewish people knew they were a chosen people.

For Jesus to point out that the widow and Naaman, who were not Jewish, received special gifts from God when other widows and lepers from Israel did not receive such gifts, he seems to be rejecting their deep belief that they are chosen people. Is it conceivable for them to continue to be the chosen people and yet be sufficiently open to the possibility that non-Jews can also fall under God’s love? Jesus shows them that God cares for all those in need, not just a chosen few.

In the second reading, Paul gives us an extended lesson in the many characteristics of love. If love can be between two people and manifest the characteristics listed by Paul then love in its most exquisite sense also applies to God and is love for his people — not only the chosen, but all human beings. Just as the Jewish people are grasped by God’s love, so the widow and Naaman fall into God’s all-embracing love. Jesus is teaching his listeners that their concepts do not truly reflect God’s love.

What does it mean to love as God loves?

Paul says, in part, “Love is patient. Love is kind. It is not jealous. It is not pompous. It is not inflated. It is not rude. It does not seek its own interests. It is not quick-tempered. It does not brood over injury.” Paul lists many other characteristics of love in a vision of a God who loves totally and completely.

Even though Jesus does not use this poetic Pauline language, he is trying to show the people in the synagogue that they must learn a new way to love. Rather than being offended by God’s choice to love the widow and Naaman, they should rejoice that God took care of people in dire need. Such rejoicing opens up a new image of God. God is not an exclusive possession of a single people; rather, God cares for all people.

All four Gospels constantly call true believers to have open hearts for those in need.

Jesus calls people to a discipleship that imitates his own way of proceeding, including all people who need help. He opens his heart to the Canaanite woman and her sick daughter. He cures the centurion’s slave. He feeds the hungry without asking if they are Jews or Gentiles. He cures Samaritan lepers.

His discourse in the synagogue as given in the Gospel opens a whole new vision of a God who loves without distinction of Jew or Gentile. This is a God with a heart large enough to encompass all human beings.

Fr. Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House in Oshkosh, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator.

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