Monday, November 12, 2018

The hierarchy of love

When Jesus was asked by a scribe which was the first of all the commandments of the Jewish laws, Jesus responded by saying that the first was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your strength and all your soul. He also added that the second is to love your neighbor as yourself.  He wasn’t asked which was the second most important, but by adding that second one almost in the same breath, Jesus was revealing that there needs to be an order or hierarchy in the way that we love, and in some way, a necessary corollary.

There is always a benefit when there is a right ordering in life.  We human beings have a certain ordering in the way that we grow and develop, and in the ways that we strengthen and mature.  The ability to walk and move independently takes the development and stability of our legs and to learn coordination for about a year after being born.  No one has yet seen a baby born into the world and immediately walking in the labour room.  In the same way, our brains develop in a certain ordered and systematic way.  The only way anyone can handle the intricacies of calculus is when they started by learning to count.  

When it comes to love, there is also an order or structure that one needs to respect and adopt, and on that day in Palestine, the scribe’s question to Jesus saw him pointing out how this structure and hierarchy looks like.  

Jesus is revealing that love of God has to be our primary love or out first love.  It’s not that God needs this, but rather that weneed this ordering.  Loving God first – this is grounded on the fact that our very being is a product of God’s love for us.  Loving God and being grateful to him for all that we are (all our heart), for all that we can do (all our strength) lays the foundation of the ways that we later on correctly love the people who form our community.  And we can only love the community correctly if we first love God correctly.  

The family unit itself has an ordering of loves.  In the preparatory session that I give to parents and godparents of infants who are to be baptized, I often stress that there is a pressing need for them to maintain a right ordering or hierarchy of love as well.  There is a strong tendency for many married couples to start out in their marriage by loving each other in a fully invested way, as well they should.  But when the first child comes along, he or she often becomes the new focus of love for the couple, and they begin to turn their gaze away from each other, and make the child the object of their gaze.  Doing this has the potential to dilute and diminish the love of the parents for each other, especially when the love of the child is at the expense of the love of the spouses.  My encounters with spouses who have communication issues with each other have shown that this has often been the genesis of the weakening of the marriage bond, and this is often only revealed much later when the children have left the home, leaving the nest empty.

When a couple in a marriage do all that they can to ensure that their spousal love comes first before their love of their children, it is not that they will end up abandoning their children.  What is more likely to happen is that they will give their children a secure environment of love where they know that their parents love each other.  What sets a child to be insecure is when they are unsure if their parents’ love is solid and well founded, stable and unshakeable. A couple that understands what selfless and disinterested love is in a marriage cannot but have this love overflow into the ways that they love their children.  

When we have issues with addictions and insecurities ourselves, it is often a result of our notobserving what Jesus said to the Scribe.  This happens when we love ourselves first, and put all our heart, soul, mind and strength in pursuing our projects, our hobbies, our work and our skills and talents first, and find that we are only loving God when we find the time to do so, and not make the time to.  Finding time to love God is akin to giving God what is convenient and what is leftover, like the remnant scraps of our time.  But when we are fully invested in ordering our priorities right in life, we make time for what we know is crucial, and for what we know lays the correct foundations for all that we pour ourselves into.  

Jesus’ whole life was centered on the Kingdom of God, and we see the result of this in the ways that Jesus gave of himself through his teaching, preaching, living and dying. When we make efforts to also center our lives on God first, we too, are like that Scribe, not far from the Kingdom of God.  

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