“Nothing says love like a sizzling steak!”
Over the years I have heard many words and phrases associated with love, particularly in the context of our nation’s fascination with the annual celebration of love known as Valentine’s Day. So when I recently opened an email from a restaurant my wife and I frequent with the above quote as the tease, it got me thinking; what does truly communicate love? While I do enjoy a good steak, and on occasion have probably remarked with affectionate language my appreciation for it, I believe that something more than a piece of beef expresses love.
Jesus spoke of love in terms of sacrifice and service. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13 NRSV) What does that really mean for the routines of daily living? We often hear these words in the context of some heroic act when someone has given his or her life to save others. Most of us will not find ourselves in that setting too often, if ever. So hearing those words, we more often than not think in terms of our willingness to offer ourselves as a possibility and not a certainty. It is much easier to love in that manner when it is simple hypothesis. Perhaps we need to hear Jesus’ words in tandem with other words he offered in the fifteenth chapter of John’s gospel. “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” (John 15:9-10 NRSV)
Right about now I’m thinking that embracing a sizzling steak as evidence of love sounds pretty good. Nourishment, the engaging of all the senses in the act of consumption, the socialization that often is found around the dinner table…I love it! As the consumer of the steak, little is required of me and love is a momentary reaction to a visceral craving. Jesus speaks, however, of something more…obedience born not of slavish duty, but rather because of relationship that is established with the One he called “Father.” Embracing God by embracing Jesus is a way of living that turns from the simple satisfaction of getting what I want, to the eternal truth of seeking what God desires. “We love,” John wrote in I John 4:19, “because he (God) first loved us.” The focus shifts from my ability to love, to God’s ability to love. As in all great love stories, it is not then about me, but about the One who loves me.
Jesus lived this love before his disciples again and again in the gospels. He spoke of the significance of intentionally placing one’s self last instead of first. He took a towel and knelt to wash the dirty feet of his disciples and then told them they were to do the same. And yes, he told them that the greatest manifestation of love was to give one’s life for another. When God’s love is at work in our lives, we value others and ourselves differently. We begin to see that love marks us in terms of obedience, sacrifice, and selfless giving. No wonder we would rather consider a sizzling steak, or a dozen roses, or a box of chocolates as evidence of love; much less commitment…much less investment.
In the immediate aftermath of Valentine’s Day, 2014, whether you expressed your love through a box of chocolates, a beautiful bouquet of flowers, a piece of jewelry or even a nice dinner with a sizzling steak, don’t be too hard on yourself. These are perfectly acceptable expressions. However, recognizing that love isn’t an annual expression, perhaps you and I might consider anew the words and actions of Jesus who calls us to follow his example of love through sacrifice, service, and obedience. “I am giving you these commands,” Jesus said, “so that you may love one another.” That is the greatest gift of all!