Human beings have deep-seated identity needs. In 1943 Psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed a hierarchy of needs which included self-actualization, self-esteem, love/belonging, safety and physiological needs. Vern Redekop, who discusses Conflict Resolution in his book "From Violence to Blessing," identifies 7 needs, beginning with the need to be a legitimate self, a person whose needs and desires are worth being met. Moving on from there, Redekop proposes others: meaning, action, recognition, security, and connectedness. Whichever list of needs one focuses on, it doesn't seem much of a leap to me to define love as an awareness of and a commitment to seeing these needs met - not only in ourselves (appropriate self-love) but also in our neighbors. In fact, that's one of the ways that you can interpret the Gospel reading from yesterday's lectionary.

In Matthew 5:31-46, Jesus tells us how it will be when the Son of Man returns to claim hiis rightful place as Ruler adn King. As he separates "sheep" from "goats,"  Jesus gives a description of the sort of person who will enter the kingdom of God.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your  inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the  world. For I was hungry  and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to  drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ " (v 34-36)

While these verses are often an encouragement to do more good, to give more time and money towards those who are in the margins of society, it can be expanded beyond that to incorporate willingness to meet whatever the appropriate need is of our neighbor. Yes, it is true that some around us are hungry and thirsty, and so donating food to the local foodbank throughout the year is a valid and necessary way of showing love. But what about the stranger? Meeting his or her needs may not be about giving at all. Instead, we may show love by receiving someone new into our circle of family and friends. In doing so, we offer a place at the table, recognizing the newcomers' differences and valuing them as gifts. By stepping back and not doing for them, we allow them the opportunity to act in meaningful ways, to be a blessing to us.

And perhaps it is the need for connectedness that underlies Jesus commendation for his followers who remember the prisoners. My guess is that he is referring here to men and women who have been put under lock and key for their belief in Christ, enduring persecution for their faith. But we can also go beyond this to those who are imprisoned for any reason. To love in this way is to validate the common bond we all share as members of the human race, to continue to offer support and community in the midst of isolating and dehumanizing circumstances.

In this teaching, His last before he heads to the cross, Jesus shows us what it means to fulfill the two great commandments: to love God and to love others as ourselves.  They are two sides of one coin, for it is in loving the other, that we show our love for Christ. "‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me,'" says the King to his true followers. And he will say it again to Peter on the lakeside, "If you love me, then feed my sheep." But we need to slow down if we are to appreciate the full dimensions of love. For love isn't always about giving, although that is an important aspect of showing care. It's also about welcoming and receiving, about keeping connected. It's in the give and take and faithful companioning of loving community that our needs are truly met.



Leave a Reply.