Second Sunday of Luke - Reflection from St. Maximus the Confessor

The Orthodox Church is not about following doctrine or dogma. The Orthodox Church is a Way of Life. This Way can be distilled into Christ's most central commandment to us: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbour as yourself.

The Gospel reading from Luke 6:31-36 begins, "As you wish that men would do to you, do so to them." This is known as the Golden Rule, and it exists in all major religions and philosophies. 'Treat others as you want to be treated' is a pretty basic moral code to live by.

However, Christ qualifies this further:

"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again."

In other words, it's easy to show love and kindness to those who give it back to us. This kind of transactional love can be seen everywhere, even among 'sinners'.

Christ raises the bar higher when he tells us, "But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful."

What Christ is teaching is unconditional love, not transactional love. It is love without any expectations, and love without exceptions. It is love for those who hate us or are indifferent to us. It is living with an outlook that is rooted in mercy, grace and compassion.

What does it mean to truly live a life of love, both love of God and love of our fellow human beings? St. Maximus the Confessor provides us with a simple guide to follow:

The one who is perfect in love and has reached the summit of detachment knows no distinction between one's own and another's, between faithful and unfaithful, between slave and freeman, or indeed between male and female. But...having risen above the tyranny of the passions and looking to the one nature of men he regards all equally and is equally disposed toward all. For in him there is neither Greek nor Jew, neither male nor female, neither slave nor freeman, but Christ is everything and in everything.

What is it that St. Maximus the Confessor is telling us? He is explaining that perfect love comes from a place of detachment - a detachment from our own needs and ego. In other words, there is no expectation that the person you give love to will return your love or meet your needs, because Christ has already met these needs for you. Further to this, the love given is without distinction. In this way, it is completely egalitarian. It should not distinguish on the grounds of gender, race, religion, status, sexual orientation or any other reason. We love all because Christ is in everything and everyone. It is a radical way to live.

Ask yourself today, is your love transactional or unconditional?

Do you get upset or resentful when people don't love you the way you want them to?

Do you give to others with an expectation as to how they should respond?

When we learn to accept the unconditional love God lavishes on us, we learn to love others unconditionally.