"I'm glad we have a variety of words to use more or less interchangeably with love, since love is so easily turned into a cliché. Along with mercy and compassion, we can speak of peace, a state of relational wholeness and well-being in which love, not hostility, reigns. Or we can speak of reconciliation, the process of bringing hostile parties into a state of peace and love. Today, we might speak of nonviolence, kindness, community, solidarity, friendship, even humanity (as opposed to inhumanity). Whatever words we use, we see this theme of the supremacy of love running like an electric current through everything Jesus says and does.

"On one occasion, when his critics challenge him for not observing Sabbath rules carefully enough, Jesus dares to say that the rules aren't absolute; human well-being takes precedence (Mark 2:27-28). Immediately after that statement, he defiantly performs a healing on a Sabbath day. Jesus' anger at the compassionless hearts of his rule-obsessed critics stands in stark contrast to their anger about their precious rules being broken (3:5). Luke tells of a similar incident (13:10ff.). Jesus evokes the common human compassion of any farmer who gives his oxen and donkeys a drink on the Sabbath day, suggesting that human compassion even for animals trumps rigid conformity to Sabbath rules. Shortly thereafter, Jesus performs another healing on the Sabbath and again evokes the compassion of any good father or farmer for a child or an ox who falls into a ditch on the Sabbath (14:1ff.). No person with an ounce of human compassion would wait until the next day to pull out the victim, again affirming that the rules aren't absolute; compassion holds a higher value.

"Love was not only the heart of Jesus' teaching; it was also the heartbeat of his daily life. The disciples see a bunch of noisy children and try to send them away; Jesus welcomes them. The disciples see a crowd of hungry people and try to send them away; Jesus feeds them. The disciples see a woman of another culture and religion and ask Jesus to send her away; Jesus (eventually) listens to her and meets her need. A crowd refuses to show common courtesy to a social outcast named Zacchaeus; Jesus sees him up in a tree and treats him with dignity and respect. A group of prestigious people at a formal banquet look at a disreputable woman with disdain; Jesus sees her as someone who has loved much, and so must be forgiven much. His love even brings him to tears (John 11:5, 35). In story after story and without a single exception, we see that the driving motivation in Jesus' life is love.

"Near the end of his life, at the time when leaders typically utter the farewell speech their followers will always remember, Jesus' final message was simple and direct (John 13:17): You are my friends. Love one another as I have loved you."