1 John 5: 1-6
John 15: 9-17
That verse . . . This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. It’s from John 15. Another variation of Jesus’ statement was made - in the same room, with the same disciples, in the same time frame - back in John chapter 13.
Regardless of where it’s found or repeated, it's a mouthful. Only 13 words in English - but a lifetime of challenge nonetheless.
The Greeks had at least four distinctive words for love . . . eros, philia, storge, and agape. Eros, the love that ranges from the lustful to the romantic. Philia is treating friends like a favorite brother or sister. Storge is linked to the life-long affection and connection within families. Then there’s the final understanding of love - the one Jesus frequently used. Love. Agape.
German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.”
How casually we say . . . love.
They’re in love.
We made love.
I loved a meal, a movie, a car, a vacation, a lipstick.
Bonhoeffer was correct. Jesus’ love was and is illuminating. What Jesus taught was that God loves us all - everybody. . . unconditionally.
It’s so much easier to judge others. It’s easier to remain blind to another’s need. It’s easier to view the world as a cruel, unfair battleground (Us against Them!). It’s easier to narrowly seek what brings me pleasure (Hello, seductive Eros!).
Jesus’ love demands an equal, generous, non-judgmental relationship . . . with everyone.
How can I possibly “love” my fellow Christian if she believes differently from me? For example, based on my understanding of faith, if a person reads the Bible literally, as God’s infallible word, she is . . . wrong.
How can I possibly “love” those from other faith traditions? If he is a Muslim or a Jew, isn’t he . . . wrong?
How can I possibly “love” the person who schemed to commit immoral acts - like a terrorist, or an Adolf Hitler who was so clearly . . . wrong?
How can I possibly “love” someone—a co-worker, friend, or family member—who has lied to me or about me? That’s so . . . wrong.
How can I “love” those I don’t know, like any of the 1,400,575,550 current people in China, none of whom I’ve ever met and, frankly, will never possibly meet? (Even as I speak, China’s population will have grown. More people I don’t know or will never meet)
How can I love people who act differently, dress differently, love differently?
How can you “love” any of
the people on the second floor of your apartment building? You live on the
ground floor, and could go days, even weeks, with never climbing the stairs to
spend any time with those people who live up there.
How can I “love” a South Sydney supporter?
How can we “love” someone who has broken our heart, broken a promise, broken our trust?
There are funny and self-centered and even righteous reasons to withhold love from others.
How do you think Jesus loved?
How do you believe Jesus loved?
It is far simpler to live in a dark world, where judgments and criticisms and fears rule. And yet the world along the path set by Jesus is illuminated. By love. For love. With love.
Every day I choose. Every day you choose. Will my easily broken heart remain open? Or will I shutter it and turn the darkness darker? A closed heart is safer. In the shadows, I won’t get hurt. An open heart is riskier. My love - and losses - will be illuminated all the time.
This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you . . .
John’s Gospel repeats Jesus’ mandate in multiple places. But the tough truth is the struggle we have daily to seek and share the illumination of God’s love. I can’t speak for you, but I need to have Jesus’ instructions repeated!
For years, a popular phrase has encouraged “random acts of kindness . . .” Random is easy. Jesus’ ways of love - of agape - are never random. Instead, Jesus’ agape commands us to be intentional, sacrificial, and universal . . . every day, with each person, and all situations.
Acknowledgement: Rev Larry Patten