[BREAKING THE BREAD OF GOD’S WORD]
3rd Sunday of Lent Year C
February 28, 2016
LOVE ME TENDER, TOUGH AND TRUE!
Elvis Presley was one popular singer whose fame was unequaled in his times – and beyond! One of the early recollections I had of him was his soulful rendition of LOVE ME TENDER. To quote verbatim, he crooned: “Love me tender, love me true, all my dreams fulfilled.”
I agree with Elvis. Real love must be tender. It must be palpably experienced, not just audibly proclaimed. It must be genuinely felt, by both lover and beloved. How’s this for a great example: “I have witnessed the affliction of my people … and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers, so I know well what they are suffering.”
God is like a mother. He feels with His beloved children. He sits by us in our troubles and in our pains. He stands by us in our tribulations. He stands in for us in our loneliness. And He can do so because His love is tender, beyond mere words, beyond mere interior dispositions.
Elvis Presley got it right. Love which is real and palpable ought to follow his rules: love me tender, love me sweet, love me long and love me dear. But there was something that Elvis got wrong … something essential to love, too, was missing. And this missing element is what is clear in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. St. Paul tells his readers that love has to be tough too, and tough love does have its demands. “All ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink … Yet God was not pleased with most of them.” He further writes: “Do not grumble as some of them did, and suffered death … Whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.”
Many parents today got it wrong. Many think that love is always giving in to their children’s demands. In Church on Sundays, to make them sit quiet and still, they bribe their kids either with food or with tablets, and I am not talking about ingestible tablets, but those set aside for entertainment. They are well-behaved at home, but wait until they get to a mall, and they raise hell to get what they want, put up a tantrum to get their toy, or their latest gadget. Love me sweet is not balanced by love me tough.
I remember a time as a child when I was shown this love me tough thingie, one occasion among many. I was no more than 7 years old. The neighborhood kids decided to go for a swim at the Pasig River. I was prevailed upon to go along. A concerned neighbor saw us and reported us to our parents. When I got home, I got the worst spanking I ever got. I remembered. For life. And for all the pain and the tears, I got the most important realization. Love me tender came in a package that also says, love me tough.
But the story of love is a multi-faceted one. Like a diamond, it has its hidden angles and occult glinting colors that can only be seen when put against the light. Such was the case of the burning bush … the light of the flames from the bush showed in a very palpable manner the tender, tough, and true love of a kind and merciful God. “Come no nearer … Remove the sandals from your feet … I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”
And here is where it gets pretty tender and true … “Therefore I have come down to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians and lead them out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”
At 8 years old, I was run over by a car. It was an off white Beetle Volkswagen filled with lady passengers. As soon as they saw I was not quite dead yet, the driver sped away leaving me limping and bleeding on the road. I managed to limp my way home. I lied to my mother. I did not tell her I was run over by a car. Her initial reaction? Anger at me … but this did not last very long. The tough love soon made way to tender, caring love.
But notwithstanding the kindness and mercy of God, bad things do happen to good people. A terrible thing also happened to a group of Galileans who suffered a violent death when the tower of Siloam fell on them. Yes, love of God and our love for God do not guarantee that life is going to be a walk in the park. The mystery of human freedom and human choice, along with the mystery of evil, can wreak pain and suffering even to innocent people.
But sinner or saint, innocent or guilty, happy or not so happy, the same merciful God calls us and expects us to use our freedom and the capital that is His love, to go and bear fruit. And this is where the tender part and the tough part get together and become true. And it can only be true if it is vivifying, life-giving, and fructifying – fruit-bearing.
Love cannot be only tender and not much else. It is not enough that two people are in love for them to get married. That love, too, must be open to its life-giving nature. It must be fruitful. It must be fecund. I cannot get married to my dog, no matter how much I love my dog, for the simple reason that that love is never and will never by fructifying. Neither can I get married to my car, or to my computer. Love, for it to be real, ought to go beyond being tender. It also has to be true, a love born of a relationship that cannot but be open to bearing fruit, as in the case of a man and woman, open to giving birth to children.
The tender and loving God, whose love is tough and true, talks to us personally today in Jesus, His Son. He is like the landowner who planted the fig tree, and who, rightly expected some fruit from what he planted. Finding none, he wanted it cut down. But no, He did not. His mercy triumphed over all other considerations. He was willing to wait. For it was, after all, in the nature of fruit-trees to be giving fruit and bearing fruit in plenty.
In life, I have met so many people. I have known so many, who despite their many faults, are essentially very productive people. There are those who, despite their degrees and titles and opportunities given them, hardly do anything for others. There are lazy people, and very hardworking people. But God loves them all equally. And God reminds us now that love for Him, for ourselves and for other people, is meant to be tender, tough, and true – and fruit-giving!
Merciful and gracious is the Lord, slow to anger and abounding in kindness! True. But so, too, is the need for this love and mercy to bear fruit in plenty for the life of the world.