The Christian’s love is perhaps the most important mark of a disciple. Jesus taught that everyone would know His disciples by the love they display for one another(John 13:34-35). Henri Nouwen’s reflections on Christian leadership expand our understanding of what it means to love others as Jesus loved us.
“The Christian leader of the future is the one who truly knows the heart of God as it has become flesh, ‘a heart of flesh,’ in Jesus. Knowing God’s heart means consistently, radically, and very concretely to announce and reveal that God is love and only love, and that every time fear, isolation or despair begins to invade the human soul, this is not something that comes from God.
“This unconditional and unlimited love is what the evangelist John calls God’s first love. ‘Let us love,’ he says, ‘because God loved us first’ (1 John 4:19).
“The love that often leaves us doubtful, frustrated, angry and resentful is the second love, that is to say, the affirmation, affection, sympathy, encouragement, and support we receive from our parents, teachers, spouses, and friends. We all know how limited, broken, and very fragile that love is.
“Behind the many expressions of this second love there is always the chance of rejection, withdrawal, punishment, blackmail, violence, and even hatred. Many contemporary movies and plays portray the ambiguities and ambivalences of human relationships, and there are no friendships, marriages, or communities in which the strains and stresses of the second love are not keenly felt. Often it seems that beneath the pleasantries of daily life there are many gaping wounds that carry such names as abandonment, betrayal, rejection, rupture, and loss. These are all the shadow side of the second love and reveal the darkness that never completely leaves the human heart.
“The radical good news is that the second love is only a broken reflection of the first love and that the first love is offered to us by a God in whom there are no shadows. Jesus’ heart is the incarnation of the shadow-free first love of God. From his heart flow streams of living water. He cries out in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me! Let anyone who believes in me come and drink’ (John 7:37-38). ‘Come to me, all you who labor and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls’ (Matthew 11:28-29)."
(In the Name of Jesus, Henri Nouwen, Crossroad Publishing, New York, 1989, pages 38-41)