The Dilemma of “The Unwelcomed Suitor” – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

John 15:18-21

“Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you.”

When I was in college, I was a member of a social fraternity whose particular charism was the promotion of music for the uplift of humankind. We believed that there was a divine spirit of truth in music. Our chief philanthropy was a Music Mission (started by our founder here at the ‘Alpha Chapter’ in Boston), where we would go to nursing homes and hospitals and sing for all those whose spirits were downtrodden: the aging, infirm, or those suffering from dementia. We had a hymnal-like book filled with songs in 4-part harmony that we would break out and sing at meetings, in restaurants, or even an occasional serenade to a young lady we wanted to impress. Now, you might think we were a sweet group of young, geeky, idealistic music nerds who took their craft a little too seriously. But we also were typical college students who loved to get together and have a good time, consuming beer and pizza, and occasionally getting a little rowdy. We loved each other and we would always come to a brother’s aid if an occasion demanded it.

The most delicate situation that we would occasionally have to deal with was not from a rival fraternity, but from romantic suitors who might seductively lure our brothers away from our loyal band. When that happened, you would occasionally see a jealous, brooding, and general smug mind-set arise toward the suitor in question and an unsympathetic attitude towards our brother. I don’t want to say we hated the person of our brother’s affection—hate in this case is definitely too strong of a word. But we could definitely be jealous and unaccommodating. It wasn’t our best feature, but we’re all human. In the meantime, I’ve certainly been honored to be a groomsman and even godfather to the children of some of those relationships which flowered into life-long commitments of love.

Our lesson appointed for today from John’s gospel, reminds me a little of this dilemma of “the unwelcomed suitor,” except here Jesus uses the word hate, and he means just that. “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you.” Jesus is identifying himself as the suitor, the object of our affection; an all-encompassing love that is wooing us away from the world to which previously was the apple of our eye. Not with Philia, or fraternal love. Not with Eros, or romantic love. But with an Agape love—a self-sacrificing, all-encompassing love. The world simply cannot compete. Why is this the case?

In my experience, I would say that Philia and Eros are to a degree transactional. In some way or form, they hinge on a shared interest, a shared attraction—maybe a common enemy. There is a mutuality to Philia and Eros, although perhaps not with everyone. Truthfully, we are not romantically drawn to every person we meet, nor do we particularly want to be friendly with every person we encounter. Sometimes, the only way you might know of a connection is through celebration: think the Boston Marathon. Or tragedy, think the 2013 Boston Marathon. Philia and Eros are not necessarily evil, but like all things human, they can have a shadow side. Think tribalism, group-think, colonialism; think racism, sexism, homo and trans-phobias. Think the Second-Amendment; think Guns.

Agape love is a tall order for the world because it is unconditional and not dependent on any qualification; it is the highest form of love and charity. It can certainly amalgamate into Philia and Eros, but is not consumed by them. In the Christian context it expresses the love of God for humanity and humanity for God. When Jesus says: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you,” the Greek verb used is ἀγαπᾶτε (agapate). As love goes, this is where things get thorny. Loving God without condition as God has loved us, while a tall order for finite creatures, is something we might readily aspire to. But, loving each other ‘agape’ style? What does it mean to love each other without conditions: without sex and romance, without stability and provision, without fellowship in exalted experience, or ultimately, without any expectation or transaction?

A love that is freely given; a love that requires no transaction; a love that requires no merit; a love that looks past income, beauty, political affiliation and celebrates the both subtle and profound differences in each of us as aspirational: that is a love of grace—which means it cannot be earned, it cannot be swayed, it cannot be bought or bribed away from its non-transactional nature. That is agape love: a love that takes power away from the world and redistributes that power to all under a gracious rule of justice by the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the Prince of Peace. It is a low-anthropological love. To the world it is dangerous. And it is wooing you away from tribe and into the arms of your loving suitor.

“Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you.”

Amen.

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6 Comments

  1. Pamela Post-Ferrante on April 19, 2024 at 12:41

    I am not surprised to read of your love of singing and how important it was to you and your fraternity.
    You brought your gift to SSJE . I have always been drawn to Evensong and the beauty of voices that bring a deep part of myself closer to God.
    Thank you.

  2. Randy LaRosa on April 19, 2024 at 10:01

    ‘Thank You for this .Brother Jim. It helps to clear stuff that’ s in my way.

  3. carol carlson on April 19, 2024 at 09:03

    Dear Br. Jim – Greed may be the defining sin of our time, but tribalism is deeper and less accessible to critique. ‘I love my family, I love my home, I love my country – what’s not to like?’ The religious and political cults that are such a feature of our spiritual landscape in these days are the tip of that terrifying iceberg (and just another form of greed, at bottom). So good to hear you call it out for what it really is, and invite us to a Jesus-kind of love beyond all the ‘loves’ of this world that can go bad at a moment’s notice.. Thank you.

  4. Reed Saunders on April 19, 2024 at 08:59

    Thank you Br Jim. I am currently watching “A Hidden Life” on video. It is a very uncomfortable example of how the world hates those who accept God’s call to agape love.

  5. Janice on April 19, 2024 at 07:23

    Amen

  6. Carney Ivy on April 19, 2024 at 06:37

    Beautiful reminder Br. Jim. Very hard to do at times. Peace to you and all the Brothers.

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