Man(kind)’s Best Friend

Jn. 15:9-17

Last Monday night I was in my study trying to figure out what to do with today’s Gospel lesson about love. Ben, my 75-pound black Labrador Retriever, came in and climbed up in my lap. He proceeded to wash my face thoroughly. Every fold and crinkle was explored front and back. Ben took particular care with my ears, nibbling away any extra skin. I didn’t interrupt him, because I was curious as to how long he wanted to do this. After an interminable period, he pronounced me “finished” and curled up beside me and went to sleep with his head in my lap. There can be no doubt that Ben loves me, and I Ben. As my vet pointed out recently, there is often a very strong bonding between companion animals and their owners. Meaning, purpose, and affection are often derived from this bonding. While Ben’s bonding may be prompted by visions of an extra dog biscuit, our relationship is one of creaturely love.

There are other kinds of love. Mystery, excitement, and adventure are associated with romantic love, which goes back in literature to the troubadours. Those who do not have a romantic bone in their body are brittle indeed. We are bombarded with images in the media of eros, or sexual love. Platonic love, which is the meeting of minds on a headier level of abstraction, is less familiar to most of us. Maybe it is limited to persons in white jackets working in controlled environments.

Musing, I got out my trusty Thompson’s Chain Reference Bible and looked up references to love in the Old Testament. There were a handful in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, etc. In most cases, love had to do with the relationship between individuals, for example, Abraham and Sarah; Jacob and Isaac; etc. The prophet Hosea had a lot of references (his book is based on the image of a dysfunctional marriage). The Song of Solomon needed an R rating. I was surprised to see a long list of references to love in the Psalms. That should not have been surprising, for the Psalms are often songs of praise and thanksgiving, extolling the relationship between God and man. Throughout much of the Old Testament, the term hesed, meaning “steadfast loving-kindness,” is used to refer to God’s faithful relationship with Israel. The writers in the early Church knew about Platonic love, creaturely love, filial love, brotherly, and sexual love. For them, the most important is agape, self-giving loving kindness. This is the love of God, focused and mediated in Jesus, and which we are to emulate. By presenting and embodying this love, He has given us a priceless gift of forgiveness, sacrifice, and inspiration. To this thought, Ben snored his acceptance. Amen.