Agape (agápē) is a little tiny word, but a mind-blowing concept and it’s something that is
1)very hard to fathom and
2)as hard to be the recipient of as the one giving it.
If you have been around church much, you have probably heard this word once or twice. Agape is a particular kind of love that is given freely from God to the world “just because.” It is seen in John 3:16. We are told that Christ was given; God’s one and only Son in the human form was given to us not because of anything that we did to earn it but out of this huge reservoir of love. God made that initiative. For many people, that is a preposterous concept. Sadly, it is sometimes very very hard to accept large gifts graciously, even when that gift is love.
There is a human propensity which quickly makes the recipient of an extravagant gift become suspect of such gifts, wanting to know what the “catch” is; what the giver expects of us. I can hear the hypothetical outcry of someone who hasn’t fully accepted the gift of agape love as presented from God in the form of his Son, and it is a reasonable one: “There is too a catch! Don’t you know how many rules there are?” There isn’t actually anything you have to do to receive the love. When you are told that you are something, you believe it. Look at psychology for examples of this, for both good and for ill, on the effects of children being told things at early ages about their potentials in longitudinal studies. What we think about ourselves is precisely what we make of ourselves, and Jesus knew this. Some of us will fully live into the love that we are given; some of us (myself included) will wrestle with it, for we are wrestlers; and some will simply deny it.
The genius of the methodology of Jesus was that not only was he agape love personified, but he lived it. Jesus didn’t love conditionally, ever. Fair enough he was fully human and fully divine, but that doesn’t mean that we mere mortals can’t find a take-away point here. Jesus didn’t love people for what they were but for who they were created to be; for their best selves. There was no concept of quid pro quo in the way that he loved people. Jesus knew fully well that people would disappoint him, would break his heart, and that he should probably love with a little less recklessness if he wanted to save himself a little hurting. He loved them head-on anyway. What’s more; if you claim to be one of His you are called to do no less.
For this reason, the Catholic diocese in DC doing less by saying that they will withdraw their social services from the city unless they can strong-arm their way in regard to what they want in policies against homosexuality really flies in the face of the love that Jesus modeled, in my humble opinion.
When did Jesus ever say to his people, go and serve; go give yourselves to the ones that meet criteria x,y and z? I see that nowhere.
When did he ever say to make yourself a servant to the least of these, to the lepers, to the alien; the orphan the widow, but not ____ (insert people group here; pick one; any one will do – the point is that he said no such thing).
You and I are to meet people and to love them as much as we are able to as God does. This is the core of agape love. I sincerely hope that the Catholic diocese in D.C. has a change of heart, for they are not only making themselves look petty and robbing themselves of an opportunity to do the real work of Christianity, but far worse – they are making it sound as though Christian charity is (and in their minds, should absolutely be) conditional, which is not only contrary to the very core of the Gospel but also reflects very badly on all of us at a time when the Gospel needs to be heard and enacted in a real way.