Lenten meditation: Do you love me?

The husband and wife have now been married for 25 years. It was an arranged marriage.  His parents assured him that love would come eventually.

But the culture has changed, and their children have grown up with different ideas. It’s not enough to just marry: one must marry for love. One of their daughters, in fact, has come to him with the surprising announcement that she’s engaged to the man she loves. The young couple isn’t asking his permission, only his blessing.

He wrestles with what to do, and finally decides on his own to give them both his blessing and his permission. When he tells his wife what he’s done, she’s angry that she wasn’t consulted. Still musing over his daughter, he turns to his wife and asks the question that haunts him: “Do you love me?”

Actually, he sings it.

The scene is from Fiddler on the Roof, the Tony Award winning Broadway musical (1964) that was later made into a movie (1971). The story centers on Tevye, a poor Jewish man living in a Russian shtetl in the years before the Holocaust, his wife Golde and their five daughters. They live under the constant threat of persecution. Their traditions are under siege, and the relationship between love and marriage is a central theme of the play.

When Tevye asks Golde if she loves him, she calls him a fool, then explodes with incredulity:

For twenty-five years
I’ve washed your clothes,
Cooked your meals,
Cleaned your house,
Given you children,
Milked the cow.
After twenty-five years
Why talk about love right now?

Today, it’s easy to take for granted that marriage is first and foremost about love, and that love is about feelings. And by the end of the song, Golde does admit her feelings for Tevye. But for her, as demanded by the tradition in which they were both raised, love is primarily about devotion, constancy, and sacrifice.

It doesn’t have to be either-or. But as feelings wax and wane, it might be good for spouses to remember the concrete sacrifices each has made over the years for the sake of love.

Does God love us?

There are times when we’re not so sure. Things aren’t going well. We’ve prayed and prayed, but we’re not getting the answer we want. And we’re tempted to believe that God doesn’t care.

God’s love for us is a prominent theme in the writings of the apostle John. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16, NRSV).  “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

But the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are virtually silent on the subject. Not once does Jesus speak directly about God’s agape love for humanity. Why?

Because he demonstrates it instead. He shares meals with sinners. He touches the unclean. He exudes compassion at every turn.

And supremely, he bears our burdens on the cross.

In the midst of our suffering and doubt, we are always free to turn to God and ask, “Do you love me?” It’s a valid question, especially for the season of Lent. For the biblical answer, first and foremost, is Good Friday.