Easter 5C May 15, 2022 John 13:31-35
Between the words that are spoken and the words that are heard, may the Spirit of our ever living, all loving God be present. Amen
These past few weeks, it appears as though we have been hitting the rewind button. Just as the disciples must have been doing, we keep going back over events that led up to the crucifixion, remembering what Jesus said and how the events played out just as he had predicted.
Today’s gospel takes us back to that final meal Jesus shared with his disciples, and unlike the other gospel writers, John tells us in great detail what Jesus said to his disciples during that final night they had together. It was after Jesus had washed the feet of each disciple, demonstrating the kind of servanthood he wanted them to show one another, and after Judas had left, that he turned to the remaining eleven to teach them one last time. “Little 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.’”(John 13:33) Jesus was preparing the disciples for the hard times he knew they would face when he was no longer physically with them. His work on earth was done, but they still had work to do; to carry the good news to all the world.
His parting words to his disciples does not blame them for their past failures or future shortcomings. Instead, he gives them a command. “ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.”(John 13:34)
But wait a minute, doesn’t this commandment sound a lot like the ‘greatest commandment’ Jesus recited from Hebrew scripture when the young lawyer in Matthew’s gospel tried to test him? “Jesus replied, ‘love the Lord, your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind …and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt 22:37-40) What is “new” is the way this command teaches us to love our neighbors; not as we love ourselves, but as Christ loves us, which demands much more of us. I have to admit that I don’t always love myself, so loving my neighbor as I love myself might not be so difficult. But, if I am going to love someone as Christ loves me, I have to be willing put a lot more effort into it. “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:33-35)
A tougher command was never given. “Love one another as I have loved you.” There is no promise that this will be easy. It is, in fact, sometimes so hard that only the grace of God can make it possible. Yet, his command is clear. We are to love all people, just as he did, without exception. “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Just as Jesus washed the disciples’ feet knowing that Judas was about to betray him, that Peter would deny him and that all would forsake him in his hour of greatest need, he expects us to offer grace and hospitality to everyone, even the ones who don’t like us and talk about us when we are not around.
Our purpose, as children of God, is only this one thing: to love; to love without judgment, to love without fear, to love without bias, to love without qualification, to love without exception, to love as Christ loves us. We are to love the people we want to love and the people we can’t stand. We are to love the people who live the way we think they should, and we are to love the people who don’t. We are to love the people who are just like us, and the people who are so different from us we can’t even name one thing we have in common. We are to love each other, until there is no longer any division, or as the apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians, until “There is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.” (Galatians 3:28) But we are all one in Christ Jesus.
When we love each other as Jesus commanded, he says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35) Yes, we sometimes fall short in our love for one another, and especially for those outside our community of faith where theological and ethical arguments often descend into personal attacks and name-calling; and those in need of compassion find judgment instead.
Jesus could not be clearer: It is not by our theological correctness, not by our moral purity, not on how much scripture we know and can quote from memory, or how strongly we proclaim our individual faith; it is not by our impressive knowledge that everyone will know that we are his disciples. It is quite simply by our loving acts of service and sacrifice that point to the love of God for the whole world. When Jesus gave us that commandment, it was not a suggestion, a good idea, or good advice. It is the litmus test for Christianity. It is based on how successful we have been in keeping that one commandment to “Love one another as I have loved you”. When we actively love each other, Christ is glorified, the world notices and remembers the name we bear. As the songwriter so eloquently puts it, “They will know we are Christians by our love”.
The question then is, do they? So, what does this love look like in the reality of our lives? It can be as simple as picking up the telephone and calling someone we haven’t see in a while to inquire how he or she is doing, preparing and delivering a casserole to a parent caring for a sick child, or writing a personal note to someone who needs encouragement or deserves a thank you. It looks like 10,000 little acts of kindness, patience and understanding.
This is the kind of love the world so desperately needs. It is this kind of love that will allow us to work for fairness in all that we do, that will dissuade us from striking back when others strike at us, that will not let our differences divide us. The kind of love that turns our pain into compassion for others, The kind of love that Jesus commands us to have for one another. I think the stumbling block for most people, and surprisingly, the place where the possibility for the kind of love Jesus tells us to demonstrate can begin, is in our differences. Here at St. Francis, We proclaim, “Inclusive - because diversity was God’s idea.” At first glance, it is a simple invitation to everyone to enter our doors, sit with us in prayer, hear God’s word, and share in a holy meal without restrictions. Here, we have created and endeavor to cultivate a culture that empowers each one of us to be the person God created us to be and gives us the permission and freedom to do it with no excuses. I cannot help but remember my very first day here at St. Francis how I was so warmly welcomed not only by Mark, but by so many others who made sure I felt I was truly welcomed here. That was ten years ago, and even after being away for five years, I still feel as if I am embraced by the spirit of love that I felt on my first day in this sanctuary. The beginning of love, renowned writer and Franciscan priest, Thomas Merton once wrote, is to let those we love be perfectly themselves and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise, we love only reflections of ourselves we find in them.” (No Man Is an Island. NY: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1955, 168)
Jesus has given us a genuine challenge. He valued justice, forgiveness and compassion and wants us to do the same. Just Jesus love was proactive and visible, he calls us to do the same. If someone is hungry feed them. If someone is naked, clothe them. This is loving as Jesus loves. Are we up to the challenge?