Perfect love, given entirely for another’s happiness. The only love that will get us into heaven.
Agape is the love within the Holy Trinity. Rabbi Yeshua tells us that, “the Father loves [agapa] me” Jn 10:17. We are to reflect God’s glory back to him by loving him with this perfect love. “You shall love [agapeseis] the Lord your God” Mt 22:37. We are to reflect God’s glory to our neighbors by loving them the same way.
“You shall love [agapeseis] your neighbor as yourself” Mt 22:39. Even to our enemies! “Love [agapate] your enemies” Mt 5:44; Lk 6:27. Rabbi Yeshua raised His command for us from “as yourself” to “Love [agapate] one another; even as I have loved [egapesa] you Jn 13:34.
In the Dawn of Creation God spoke his mighty name, EHYEH, “I AM” Ex 3:14. We say it, YHWH, “HE IS.” When Rabbi Yokhanan tells us that God is love, he is speaking directly of God’s nature. “He who does not love does not know God; for God is love” 1 Jn 4:8. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” 1 Jn 4:16.
There are only three theological virtues infused by God into his faithful. The greatest, even among these, is love. Rabbi Paul tells us, “So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” 1 Cor 13:13.
Rabbi Yeshua, asked for the great commandment in the law, replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” Mt 22:37–40. His meaning is crystal clear: § 1022 At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love.
But what do we mean by love? We moderns have so abased our English word “love” that when we are violating the Sixth Commandment we call it “making love.” Holy Mother Church wisely retains the Greek word agape to keep its meaning clear.
Rabbi Yeshua loved us so much that he freely chose the Cross, for us. How many of us could endure the Cross for three hours for our own cherished wife? He endured it for all who had sinned against him. In the New and Eternal Covenant he expects the same of us. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love [agapate] one another; even as I have loved [egapesa] you, that you also love [agapate] one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love [agapen] for one another” Jn 13:34–35. He knew we could not reach that standard so he gave us Confession, but that is the mark we strive for. Kneeling humbly before Rabbi Yeshua in the little booth actually helps us concentrate on him rather than on ourselves.
Rabbi Paul described agape: “Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” 1 Cor 13:4–7
True love is given for another person’s happiness. False love is given for what we can get from that person.
Rabbi Yeshua commanded us, “You shall love [agapeseis] the Lord your God” Mt 22:37and raised His command for us from “as yourself” to “Love [agapate] one another; even as I have loved [egapesa] you” Jn 13:34. We must be exceedingly careful to love God primarily for his own magnificent glory and perfection, not the heavenly kingdom we hope to receive from him. And we must be careful to love each man or woman we encounter the same way, to please him or her, not for what we hope to receive.
A popular version of the Act of Contrition recognizes the weakness of our fallen race by acknowledging that we are sorry for our sins, “Because I dread the loss of heaven, and the pains of hell.” However, it immediately acknowledges: “but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who are all good and deserving of all my love.”
Deus Caritas Est
Some Scripture translations render the Greek agape as “charity,” from the Latin caritas, which has the same meaning as agape. Pope Benedict XVI speaks on Christian love in Deus caritas est. § 1 “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 Jn 4:16).
The Uphill Journey to Heaven
Koine Greek had three words for the English word “love”: agape, phileo, and eros. Phileois the love between friends who enjoy one another’s company. Pope Benedict XVI, in Deus caritas est “God is Love,” December 25, 2005, § 3, says, “As for the term philia, the love of friendship, it is used with added depth of meaning in Saint John’s Gospel in order to express the relationship between Jesus and his disciples.” And the entire body of authoritative Catholic teaching on eros is contained in Deus caritas est.
Rabbi Yeshua showed us the steep spiritual climb from phileo to agape. Just before he ascended to the Father, he wanted to show Rabbi Kefa the spiritual level that he would need after the Holy Spirit descended. Rabbi Yeshua asked Rabbi Kefa, “Simon, son of John, do you love me [agapas me] more than these?” Rabbi Kefa replied, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you [filo se].” Rabbi Yeshua then told Rabbi Kefa, “Feed my lambs” Jn 21:15. A second time Rabbi Yeshua asked Rabbi Kefa, “Simon, son of John, do you love me [agapas me]?” Rabbi Kefa answered, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you [filo se].” Rabbi Yeshua told Rabbi Kefa, “Tend my sheep” Jn 21:16. A third time Rabbi Yeshua asked Rabbi Kefa, “Simon, son of John, do you love me [fileis me]?” Rabbi Kefa, grieved, replied, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you [filo se]..” Rabbi Yeshua told Rabbi Kefa, “Feed my sheep” Jn 21:17.
Our English translations do not fully mirror St. John’s original Greek in this conversation. Rabbi Yeshua asked whether Rabbi Kefa loved him with agape [perfect] love, but Rabbi Kefa replied with fileo, [friendly] love [filo se]. Again Rabbi Yeshua tried again to get Rabbi Kefa to reply agapo se, but again Rabbi Kefa replied, filo se. When Rabbi Yeshua saw Kefa’s grief that his spiritual level extended only as high as fileo, Rabbi Yeshua comforted Rabbi Kefa by asking, fileis me, and at last Rabbi Kefa could reply to Rabbi Yeshua at the same fileo level, filo se.
But after Pentecost, in his epistles, Rabbi Kefa consistently used agape, except when he needed philadelphia to express brotherly love. “Without having seen him you love [agapate] him” 1 Pet 1:8. Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere love of the brethren [philadelphian], love one another [agapesate] earnestly from the heart 1 Pet 1:22. “Love [agapate] the brotherhood [adelphoteta]” 1 Pet 2:17.
Rabbi Yeshua’s Love for Us
The popular Star Wars “empire” is based on Joseph Campbell’s idea of pantheism. In it, “God” is not a person at all, but rather a “zoom of energy” that flows through the universe, called “the Force.” In pantheism there is no room for love. The Force and the universe are the same thing, so there is no “other” to prefer over ourselves. The Force has no consciousness so it cannot prefer our good over its own.
In deism we have the same absence of love for the opposite reason. In Deism, “God” makes the world, “winds the clock,” and then withdraws to let the events of the universe occur as they will without ever intervening. If a Deist “God” existed but was not presently engaged with the world, he would not prefer our good over his own.
§ 1374 The mode of Christ’s presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend. In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained. This presence is called ‘real’ – by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be ‘real’ too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.
The Kingdom of Heaven and Violence
Sometimes several shepherds would keep their flocks together so that when evening came they would take turns, one shepherd awake to guard the flock while the others slept. To separate the flocks, all the shepherds had to do was move apart and call their sheep. Each sheep recognized his shepherd’s voice and went to him Jn 10:3–5.
At other times a shepherd would be alone. When evening came the shepherd also had to sleep, so he would make a sheepfold by piling up rocks, perhaps with thorny brushwood on top, with a narrow entrance so the sheep could get in and out. In the rainy season he might use a small cave.
The shepherd would herd the sheep into the fold and close it by lying down across the entrance. During the night the shepherd and his flock would sleep together.
At sunrise, they would all awaken. As soon as the shepherd stood up, thereby opening the entrance, the sheep would all try to run through it at once, violently pushing and shoving one another in their eagerness to get to the fresh grass.
Rabbi Yeshua, the good shepherd Jn 10:11, calls us to seek heaven that way, single-mindedly, eagerly following Rabbi Yeshua, violently pushing all our sinful impulses aside. He gives us the finest food Lk 22:19 and drink Lk 22:20 through Kefa’s mission, “Feed my lambs … tend my sheep … feed my sheep” Jn 21:15–17.
(Like so much that Rabbi Yeshua teaches, the simple shepherds see it right away, while many scholars are baffled.)