So this week as I was reading various topics about God’s love I came across this story from our Desert Fathers,
There was a brother who served one of the hermits. The old man’s body happened to be badly hurt, and evil-smelling pus flowed out of the wound. The serving brother thought to himself, ‘I’m getting out of hear; I can’t bear the smell of gangrene.’ To control the thought, he took a bowl, washed the wound, and kept the water which he used and whenever he was thirsty, he drank from it. But his thoughts began to trouble him again saying to him, ‘If you will not go away, at least do not drink the pus.’ The brother struggled with endurance, and went on drinking the water. God saw his charity [LOVE] as he ministered to the old man; and God turned the contaminated liquid into the purest water, and by unseen means healed the old hermit.
The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks
What an interesting concept of showing our love for neighbor. This story kinda reminds me of a “Friends” episode when Ross tries to prove his love to Rachael by drinking stored fat that is found in the fridge. I believe this points us to the question of what lengths will we go to show our love for neighbor?
We seem to always talk about where would we go and what we will give up to express our love for God, but as this story brings up the “brother” was blessed by God because of how far he would go to show his love for neighbor. Is showing our love for neighbor the best expression that we can give to show our love for God?
I do believe that the best part of this story is not that the brother was drinking the puss filled water, but that through this action he was trying to change his thinking. It was his thoughts that was tempting him to not care for the old man.
The early Church, especially Desert Spirituality, focused on being the image of God in the world which is love. This was the highest goal and aspiration. Roberta C. Bondi explains this desire like this, “Love is this kind of goal for the teachers of the early church. They wished to come to the point where all their actions, thoughts, and imaginings should be full of love, that they should have the disposition of love, but they spent very little time talking about it. Many of them did not think it was even appropriate to talk about aiming at it. Instead they used their reflection upon that ultimate goal, love, to enable themselves to set priorities and make decisions in their everyday dealings with other people.”(1) In other words, for the early church love was the goal and desire for everything they thought and did. This goes beyond actions into the very essence or affection of who you are.
I tie this understanding of discipleship with the letter of Philippians. For me the crux of this letter is to describe what Jesus actually went through. Not just His actions on the cross, but the thinking and attitude of God’s heart. Hence in chapter 2 Paul says that if we are truly united by the Spirit than our thinking/attitude/affections should be the same as Jesus Christ and then goes on to give us that affection…
“Though he was in the form of God,
he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
But he emptied himself
by taking the form of a slave
and by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Therefore, God highly honored him
and gave him a name above all names,
so that at the name of Jesus everyone
in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
This attitude is not something that comes naturally, but comes with desire, passion, discipline, and work. Notice that Jesus did not show this affection through statements or doing the bare minimum. NO, He showed it to the extreme lengths. He didn’t do it for His own benefit, but did it completely for ours.
So this brings us back to the original question I asked, What lengths will you go to show your love for neighbor? Will you change your actions? Will you change your attitudes? will you change your thinking?
After you answer these questions the next logical one will be, How will you achieve this? What this “brother” has shown us and what Jesus also reveals is that to truly love neighbor is to wade through the nasty muck of life to extend your hand of love to others. You do this not so that you gain, but your neighbor gains. This is the love that God sees. This is the love that God gives us. This is the love that turns into the purest water of life and people are healed…
(1)Bondi, Roberta C. “To Love as God Loves” (Fortress Press, 1987) p. 34