What about love?
By Rev. Jeff Lackie On May 19 2019
There are plenty of Scriptures that urge us to an attitude of love - more, certainly, than Scriptures that call us to judge or condemn (activities that are outside out pay grade according to the bible) – so you can be excused for rolling your eyes upon hearing Jesus (once again…) go on about loving and being loved. But for a moment, I would like you to look around - get a good look at the people in this sanctuary…now imagine that there has just been a polarizing provincial election, or that there is an issue in the church that pushes people into very different positions - let’s say it’s about marriage, or the approach to medical assistance in dying, or right relationship with first nations people. Let’s imagine that as you look around, you see folks that you don’t (or can’t) agree with…
Now listen with me for a word from God. (John 13: 31-35)
31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
The word of the Lord Thanks be to God
It is a little tiresome, after all; the invitation to do something that seems so wonderfully simple. Just love one another…act, live, behave as those who are loved. Do unto others…you know what I mean. For some, that’s what the gospel is all about.
But when you hear this lesson, in this part of the gospel – what do you make of it? Remember at this point in John’s gospel, the ‘last supper’ is breaking up, and Judas has been sent into the night to “do what [he] must do...” (John 13:27) The betrayal is immanent, Jesus seems to know this, and yet his next act is to implore his friends to love one another! Will love make a difference to his coming arrest and execution? Could love change the course of history? Will love (can love) solve every problem? According to John’s gospel, the answer is a resounding YES! Love CHANGES everything. That is what the gospel is all about.
The love that Jesus describes is meant for those who gather under the shadow of his cross. The love to which God calls us is to be extended to all who are made in God’s image – that is to say, all humanity; the complete complexity of creation. The love that Jesus embodies extends to the criminals hanging with him, repentant or not, and even to Judas, who is off to collect his thirty pieces of silver.
It is the complete and all-encompassing nature of God’s love that makes this seemingly simple commandment so difficult to navigate, for it means we have to do the unthinkable – love the unlovable…and to do that, we need to learn what love is.
And the first complication is that we are commanded to love. The verbs are imperative; the sense is “JUST DO IT!” Love and be loved. In John’s gospel, love is not an emotional response, drawn out of us by beauty or desire, love is an act of will, a movement towards another person simply because they are a person - love is the recognition of one child of God by another.
Love - for most English speaking people - is a complicated word. It can suggest anything from cheerful enthusiasm to deep devotion; as an emotion love can be soft and cuddly or full of fiery passion. It is a word that we use to describe our attachment to our hobbies and our children. But when Jesus gives this extended speech in John’s gospel, aside from the urgent tone, Jesus adds another layer to the notion of love:
“Love one another; as I have loved you, so you should love one another.” Love is now an example we are to follow - and that example includes frustration, delight, patience, compassion, genuine affection and deep disappointment.
Jesus’ example makes love both simpler AND more complicated for us. For it means we need to see first the humanity in one another - not the piety, or the trait that makes them ‘loveable’, or the things we may have in common. Jesus says ‘follow my example’ NOT ‘follow your heart…’
But because we would rather follow our hearts, we turn love into a decision we make in response to something we see as positive; love represents a choosing of sides that grows our groups and forms new families in a particular way. In turning love into a reaction, we add another variable - love’s opposite - that must be present in our thinking. For every person we include, some must be left behind. Love becomes a competitive sport, and the playing field is littered with those who have been on the losing side.
“…as I have loved you, so you should love one another.” Says Jesus. This after he has led them to the brink of personal disaster by sharing a meal, and washing their feet.
Over and over he has shown them kindness, and demonstrated that there is no barrier he is not willing (or able) to break down; welcoming all who crossed his path; reaching out to any in need; breaking religious rules and holding up only the singular and universal nature of God. This continuous act of love - present in every encounter - is the example we are to follow.