Gentle and humble in heart – Second Sunday after Trinity 2011

Some years ago I was showing Amalia a photo of my late father, the original Victor, and she commented, “He looks very grámhar“. It was a new word to me, and I had to look it up in the Irish dictionary. It means loving, affectionate; but also, loveable. An interesting thought, that loving people are themselves loveable; or that people who receive love become capable of giving love. Today’s Gospel, where Jesus speaks of himself as “gentle and lowly in heart” is that associated with the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which fell last Friday; in some of our Anglican churches it is called “Feast of the Divine Compassion”. We don’t generally observe it, although the underlying picture of the loving Lord is one very congenial to Church of Ireland sentiment. “Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy-laden, and I will refresh you” – familiar words from the old Communion Service which perhaps are no longer heard as much as they ought to be. The grámhar Jesus, loving and loveable, gentle in manner and humble in heart, welcoming to all and welcomed by all who have the least capability of giving or receiving love; but rejected by those whose hearts are aggressive and arrogant, who are self-righteous or unloving. Should one say that Jesus rejects such people? There are some harsh judgements in the Gospels. But it must be a hard heart indeed in which God cannot find a place to enter.

So what makes a person grámhar, loving and loveable? I thought about my clerical colleagues. Are any of them loving people? Well, yes, thank goodness. Some have great “people skills”, a pleasant and friendly manner. Some have  a great sense of humour, they make good companions. Some have neither of those things, but are dutiful in visiting the lonely and needy. Some are generous in practical ways. The thought comes to me that most of us have some elements of what it is to be loving, but few of us could be said to be totally afire with compassion as Jesus was. Paul’s words in today’s Epistle reading are apt, when he describes the inner conflict within each of us. We would like to be loving, but part of us wants to be selfish. We want one thing in our mind, but often end up doing something else. We need to be put under discipline, gentle but effective, so that we may grow more loving.

So our beautiful Collect today prays for “the most excellent gift of love, the true bond of peace and of all virtues”. The love here prayed for is the selfless love that seeks the good of the other, in Greek αγαπη. Some sorts of love might be seen to be somewhat selfish: love of family, or friend, or spouse, might to some extent be an extension of self-love – they could be rather possessive. Or they might be touched and transformed by the generous divine love. It is this openness to God’s love and to other people that is the mark of being really alive; “eternal life” as St John would put it. When we pray in the Absolution that God may “keep you in eternal life” we mean just this: that God may keep us open to receiving and giving love. And because it is so easy, through the frailty of our nature, and the hardness of the burdensome world, to find the loving knocked out of us; so we need to constantly return to the very fountain and source of love itself. In the Holy Communion, the grámhar Jesus, loving and loveable, welcomes us and embraces us, and enables us to bear his “easy yoke” of love to God and neighbour.

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