The teaching of Jesus on Love is unparalleled and unique. It was Jesus who first time instructed us to love our enemies. In Jesus’ time people believed in hating their enemies. In fact, it was the custom to take revenge on enemies. In the Bible there are rules for taking revenge for wrong doing. The book of Exodus says, “But, if there is serious injury you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stroke for stroke” (All biblical references from the New Community Bible Ex 21: 23-25).
The audiences of Jesus, the Jewish people, were well acquainted with these rules of revenge. So referring to this customary revenge Jesus says, “But I tell you, do not oppose evil with evil; if someone slaps you on your right cheek, turn and offer him the other” (Mt 5: 39).
Jesus tells us more, “You have heard that it was said: Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5: 43-44). What was the Love experience of Jesus that he gave us, the unparallel, unique message to love our enemies?
Like any other human child, baby Jesus first experienced love from his mother Mary. Before she was called to be the mother of Jesus Mary was an ordinary girl like anyone else at her Nazareth village in Palestine. She was a virgin full of God’s grace born in a devout Jewish family. In the Gospel according to Luke we read, “In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was send to Mary … (with the message to) bear a son and you shall call him Jesus” (see Lk 1: 26-31).
Mary could not make the head and the tail of the message of angel Gabriel. But when the angel explained Mary’s questions and clarified her apprehensions Mary said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me as you have said” (Lk 1: 38). Thus from the moment Mary conceived Jesus in her womb, she nurtured Jesus with much love and dedication.
After eight days of the birth of baby Jesus, according to the custom of Jewish religion, the parents of Jesus brought him to Jerusalem. The Gospel according to Luke tells us, “They brought the baby up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, as it is written in the law of the Lord: Every first born male shall be consecrated to God” (Lk 2: 22 -23).
Then, thinking that the new born child could snatch away his throne King Herod ordered that all children of two years and below age be murdered in Bethlehem and surrounding areas! Hearing of the King’s order Mary and her husband Joseph took the child Jesus in the dead of the night and fled to Egypt. Only after the death of King Herod they came back to Israel and settled in the village of Nazareth. Thus we see the child Jesus experienced dedicated and unconditional love and protection in his childhood.
Then, according to Jewish religious customs the parents of Jesus went to Jerusalem temple every year to celebrate the Passover Feast. When Jesus was twelve years old like every year they made pilgrimage to Jerusalem. After the feast was over, the pilgrims were returning home; but Jesus unknown to his parents, remained at Jerusalem. The parents thinking that Jesus was in the family group walked one day. After one day’s journey they began to look for Jesus among the relatives and acquaintances. But they could not find any trace of the teenager Jesus. So searching Jesus they reached back Jerusalem. On the third day they found the teenager Jesus in the temple sitting among the priests and listening to their religious discourse and asking them questions (see Lk 2: 41-49).
Jesus’ mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been very worried while searching for you” (Lk 2: 48). Luke says more, “Jesus went down with them, returning to Nazareth, and he continued to be under their authority. … and Jesus increased in wisdom and in age and in grace with God and men” ( Lk 2: 51-52).
Like in the childhood during his public life too, Jesus experienced committed, unconditional love of the people. Once finding his message very difficult to follow some of his disciple left Jesus. At that time Jesus asked the twelve disciples whom he has chosen, “Will you also go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom we shall go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6: 67-68). Here we see that Lord Jesus experienced committed, unconditional love of his disciples. Among the twelve disciples Jesus experienced special love from three of them. So on the occasion of Transfiguration and when Jesus raised to life the daughter of Zairus as well as when he experienced agony in the garden Jesus kept the three disciples, Peter, John and James very close to him.
Among the followers of Jesus there were also a few dedicated women. They were serving him spending money from their own pockets. Among these women followers we can distinguish three women. They are the two sisters Martha and Mary, the sisters of his friend Lazarus and the third one is Mary of Magdalene.
Jesus experienced much love in the company of Martha and Mary, the two sisters of his friend Lazarus in the village Bethany. We read about them in the Gospels according to Luke and John. Luke narrates Martha welcoming Jesus in her house and Mary sitting at his feet listening to him. But John has narrated the deep love experienced by Jesus in the company of two sisters. John writes, “Now Martha her sister Mary and Lazarus were friends of Jesus” (Jn 11: 5).
When Lazarus was sick the two sisters sent Jesus the message, “Lord, the one you love is sick” (Jn 11: 3). After hearing the news four days passed by the time Jesus reached Bethany. But the conversation of Jesus with Martha and Mary give us a clear indication of his deep love between them.
Jesus cried when he reached the place where his friend Lazarus was buried. Then, the Jewish people said, “See how he loved him!”(Jn 11: 36). John in his Gospel has described in detail about Jesus bringing back to life his friend Lazarus on the fourth day of his death in the presence of his two sisters and the Jewish people.
Then, on his last journey to Jerusalem Jesus reached Bethany with his disciples. There in a festival meal Jesus experienced deep, close love in the company of his three friends: Lazarus whom he had brought back to life and his two sisters, Martha and Mary.
Among the very close friends of Jesus Mary of Magdalene is in the forefront. Her love for Jesus is unparalleled. After Jesus’ Mother Mary it is Mary of Magdalene who followed Jesus very closely from the beginning of his public ministry to his death on the Cross. When most of the disciples ran away at the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus, among the few people who followed Jesus faithfully were his Mother Mary and Mary of Magdalene.
Then, in the first day after the Sabbath, as John writes, “while it was still dark Mary of Magdalene came to the tomb and saw the stone was moved away” (Jn 20: 1) and the tomb was empty. Mary of Magdalene ran to Peter and John and gave them the news. Both of them ran to the tomb and saw and returned after seeing the empty tomb.
But Mary of Magdalene weeping remained outside the tomb. The risen Jesus appeared to Mary and entrusted to her the responsibility of giving the message of Jesus resurrection to his disciples. So some biblical scholars called Mary, “The Apostle of Apostles”. Author Albert Nolan and other biblical scholars tell us there is no proof that Jesus and Mary of Magdalene were married.
Albert Nolan says, the most deep, intimate love Jesus experienced was with his Mother Mary. Then, we know that there is absolutely no comparison of love Jesus experienced from his heavenly Father, ‘Abba’ meaning ‘dearest dad.’
I dedicate this easy on “Love Experienced by Jesus” to the biblical scholar Albert Nolan. His very popular book ‘Jesus Today’ gave me the inspiration and impetus to write this easy.
Changed On: 01-03-2018
Next Change: 16-03-2018
Copyright Fr. Varghese Paul, SJ – 2018