Love of brothers and sisters

All of today’s Mass readings focus on how we are to love one another because we share one Father in heaven. Each one of us is brother and sister to each other in God’s eyes. Yet so often we do not treat one another as though that were really true. For example, we may make political decisions that favor our own fellow citizens and their well being above those of other nations. Interpersonally, we are attracted to people who confirm our own self-concepts: perhaps people of similar tastes, or culture, or social class, or who are like minded with how they think about religion or politics. Yet God tells us: all of you have the same Father. Treat one another like brothers and sisters.

My real life brother and I are close, despite not being geographically close for any of our adulthoods. He’s my only sibling, and three years younger than I am, but ever since he sprung up to being a strong 6 foot tall man,  takes on the role of older sibling at times. In lots of ways we are very different people: I’m an academic who spends a bunch of time discussing books and abstract ideas, and my brother though very, very bright, hated high school (partly due to dyslexia) and chose not to attend college. He’s gone on to become a successful and talented carpenter and spent years as a police auxiliary—and recently started taking classes at college in night school. When we were kids, we played a lot together since we lived in a rural neighborhood without other children around, but we often had to negotiate ‘trades’ as I wanted to play house with dolls, and he wanted to race little Matchbox cars around and smash them up. (The latter as much as the former prepared me well to mother a son.) We don’t always see eye to eye on either movies or politics. Nonetheless, I love my brother and stand by him through thick and thin as he does for me. We share a unique history together as children of the same parents, in a way that only the other person can fully understand. As adults, we play Scrabble on our smartphones together daily, visit each other when we can,text or call regularly, and always sign off “love you.”  I imagine that most people have similar relationships with their brothers or sisters.

If this is God’s model for how we are to treat one another, then what can we learn from Scripture today? God reminds us that we are to love one another despite differences, through conflicts, and past problems. Our commitment to other members of our human community is based not on whether we have shared interests or likes and dislikes, religion, race, or culture, but because we share in a common salvation history. By that, I mean that as we each grow in our lives on earth into becoming the people that God desires for us to be, other people play a significant role in this mutual growth: both the people who are easy to love and the people who can sometimes drive us crazy. All of those relationships potentially can lead us to deeper love of God and love of other people, if we allow them to.

This is true not only for individuals but also for relationships between communities. Eleven years of visiting the same community of incarcerated men has enriched my life more than I can express, precisely because the commitment year in and year out. Churches in the US who maintain sister church relationships with churches in other countries, such as Nicaragua, also report a kind of love and care that develops over the years that is far deeper and richer than a one time visit or “poverty tourism” ever could be. Long term relationships, whether between siblings, parents and children, spouses, best friends, or other forms of relationship are precisely where our areas of growth as people called to be love, get worked out.

Like our siblings, the people whom we share our lives are often complicated (just as we are), but there’s a richness of relationship in negotiating through those complications. As with familial love, love that makes its way through messiness is a deeper and more authentic kind of love than easy but superficial relationship. With a real life brother or sister, we stay committed to them for the long haul. God invites us also to examine our own relationships today and to ask: how have I treated others in my life, like a brother or sister, or not? What would it mean to treat this other person as I would my own brother? What would it mean to see this other community as sisters and brothers?