John 13: 31-38
This particular part of the story is an interesting because it comes immediately after Judas leaves the upper room and the last supper to make arrangements to betray Jesus.
It then ends with Peter being told that he too will betray Jesus. Although he doesn’t know it yet, at the time of trail, he will deny he ever even knew Jesus.
This scripture, bookended by acts of betrayal is full of love. What a wonderful message that sends. Jesus, though surrounded by people who will abandon him when they are needed the most, are still loved.
But this message of love seems to bring up as many questions as it does answers. Although the command to love one another seems simple it is the hardest of all commandments to follow. The 10 commandments are easy compared to this. It is black and white, very clear straight forward rules for the most part. But love, that can be pretty ambiguous.
First of all, What is love? We all have a preconceived notion to what this means.
Love can be an emotion- one of pleasant feelings toward another. We know this emotion when we look at a spouse, lifelong friend or family member. We know the power of this emotion but we also realize it is not possible to have these same emotions towards everyone. This emotion normally happens after years of building relationships and nurturing one another.
One of my professors at school, while preaching on this topic this week, identified Love as an Action. Love is going out of your way to help someone. It is being kind and gracious. It is having mercy and compassion towards people you may or may not know and in no way are able to compensate you for the gesture.
He also said; Love is seeing others as God sees them. We sing songs all the time and recognize that God is God of all people and nations but when we are faced with the Judas in the world, it is hard to love them too. When we feel abandoned by someone we rely on, we struggle to see them as Jesus saw Peter, and love them anyway. We often even have a hard time seeing ourselves the way God sees us. We struggle with forgiving ourselves when we mess up, loving ourselves when we betray Jesus with our words or actions much less people we don’t like very much. (Dr Ian McFarland)
The definition of Love is not the only question this scripture raises. Who is Jesus telling us to love? If we only looked at the text from John today, we could suggest that when Jesus told the disciples to love one another, he literally meant the people in that room. That would be easy right- if we were told we only had to love the people in this room. No other group knows the trails and pains as well as the celebrations and joys of your life better. The love in this group is powerful and needed.
But, when we look at all the other places where Jesus told the disciples and others to love, we get an entirely different picture.
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
So the net of love is being thrown a little wider. Ok, so we are to love the people in this room, and our neighbor. Well, that doesn’t seem too hard either. I like my neighbors, I can do that.
Here is where it gets tricky- in Matthew and Luke, Jesus tells us to love our enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. In other words, love everyone. I don’t know about you all but that is not an easy thing to do- ever. And yet, it is something we are called to do. The person who betrayed your trust, yep. The person who broke your heart, yep. The person who hurt your family, yep.
We are called to love them all. We are called to see them as God sees them and sees us. Each one of us, broken in some way, sick, defective humans who don’t deserve God’s love but are claimed as children of God anyway. All the Judases and Peters, of this world, forgiven and loved by God. And as hard as that is, Praise God! If God can love them, surely God can love us too, faults and all!
Jesus knew Judas would betray him and knew Peter would deny their relationship- his closest friends would all abandon him, but he loved them anyway and never stopped loving them. The same is true for you and me. He knows we are going to mess up. He knows we are going to betray him, deny him and not live up to his expectations or even our own expectations but he loves us anyway.
So, we know that love is more than just an emotion and we know who we are supposed to love. We know that we are loved. The big question then is how? How are we to love others as Christ loves us?
It is one thing to know something and believe something and it is another to live it. It is hard to even be around people you don’t like very much- much less, love them.
Love is never an easy thing to do. Even when we try really hard, we sometimes fail. Maybe we think we show love by doing mission work; donating food or clothes to the shelter. And yes, that is very much needed but all too often what happens is the giver is elevated and placed on a pedestal while putting the person receiving the donation down. Even when that is not the intention, society often looks at the givers as good and the receivers as bad. It is an emotional trap we have to work at avoiding.
The emotion of Love is often confused with pity. Real love is taking a genuine interest in the life of those we encounter and seeing people as equals; Gifted in different ways and acknowledging that those receiving our assistance are valuable children of God who have much to give too.
When I worked with children with developmental delays, we had always been told not to accept gifts and to be very careful about professional boundaries. It always felt like a one sided transaction though and that is normally ok but on one occasion, I commented on how wonderful a family’s dinner smelled. I didn’t think much of the comment- just general conversation with the parent while I helped the child. An hour later, as I prepared to leave, Mom insisted I take some food home with me. I tried to decline but she insisted. For once, she was able to share her talents and give something of value to me.
It was a humbling experience, especially when I realized she had given me one of only two pieces of chicken in the pot that was intended to feed her family of three. Her generosity went over and beyond anything I would have been willing to sacrifice. This was her way of showing love. They had no money, nothing substantial to offer but she could share her talent of cooking.
Maybe it is just learning someone’s name that shows love. How often do we go places where we are being served and never learn the name of person taking care of us? Gas stations, restaurants, grocery stores… We are paying; they are serving, end of business transaction. Imagine the difference it would make if we each took the time to meet them, learn a name and offer genuine words of gratitude and encouragement.
It is this love that speaks volumes about who you are and the Christ you believe in. Yes, tell people about your faith after or while you are showing them your love. The scripture tells us people will know we are Christians by our love not our words.
It is not always a grand gesture that makes the difference in a person’s life. Sometimes it is the simple sacrifice of a few minutes of your time, a genuine interest in someone, and a willingness to lower our guard long enough for someone to get to know us.A common piece of advice given to counselors and many people in helping professions is “No one cares what you have to say/know until they know you care” Let your actions speak louder or at least in concert with your words. And let people see that you are Christians by your love.