Sunday, December 11, 2011

Calvin (1509-1564):  On Love.

"If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing." - 1 Corinthians 13:3

Everyone loves 1 Corinthians 13 - the chapter on love - including non-Christians.  As for me, I have to wonder if people have really processed what it is saying.  Is it possible to give all your possessions to the poor, commit yourself to doing things for others, become a martyr in the process, and still not have love?  The answer is sadly yes, because it can be some sort of pride or vanity that is propelling the actions rather than a genuine concern for the people.  Calvin invokes the above verse (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book IV, On Vows) as he addresses the issue of monks, who he considers were decent enough in former ages but had become utterly vile creatures in his own age.  Calvin next considers the rich young ruler to whom Christ says:

"Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”" - Matthew 19:21-24

Calvin explains that the reason the young man went away sad was that he had realized that he had not kept the law - that he had not loved God beyond all else.  The command Jesus gave to give his wealth to the poor was for no other reason than to make it clear to the young man where his heart - and love - were really directed.

1 comment:

Delirious said...

I had learned once that the "eye of the needle" was actually a small narrow door, that was difficult for the camels to maneuver. I think they had to actually kind of kneel or something to get through it. So it wasn't impossible for them to go through, but extremely difficult. THe same goes for those rich people wanting to enter heaven. It is extremely difficult because of the ties to the worldly possessions. As I was thinking about this, I imagined the camel, and wondered if it would be easier for the camel to go through that door if the goods were first unloaded. I think the same would go for the rich man. When he frees himself of the worldly goods, or at least of the love of the worldly goods, it would be easier to get in to heaven.

I try to be generous with what I have, but I often wonder if I should be doing more.