April 28, 2013 –– Sixth Sunday of Easter
Acts 14:21–27 / Revelation 21:1–5a / John 13:31–33a, 34–35
Love One Another
It seems the one thing about Jesus that almost everyone knows is his message of love. Yet most people seem to have little idea of what Jesus means by “love” –– love is a nebulous, slippery word these days, but it is right to think of “Jesus” and “love” as belonging together. Jesus shows us the love of God by coming into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him (Jn 3:17b). Jesus said, Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (Jn 15:13) –– and then Jesus showed us God’s kind of love by dying for our sins.
In today’s Gospel Jesus tells his disciples what this means for all who want to follow him: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another (Jn 13:34), and then he says: By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (Jn 13:35).
Think of the ways people give witness to Christian faith. Some have bumper stickers. Some have fish symbols on their various possessions ― cars, guitar cases, backpacks –– or wear distinctive clothing of some type. There is nothing wrong with any of that.... if their character backs it up.
This story has made it through the internet in various forms, but the point is the same:
A woman was being tailgated by a stressed out man on a busy boulevard. Suddenly, the light turned yellow, just in front of her. She stopped, even though she could have beaten the red light by accelerating through the intersection.
The tailgating man hit the roof ― and the horn, screaming in frustration as he missed his chance to get through the intersection. As he was still in mid-rant, he heard a tap on his window and looked up into the face of a very serious police officer. The officer was thorough in his inquiry of all the driver’s documents, taking time that frustrated the man even more. He finally snapped at the officer, asking what the problem was.
Finally the officer told him,"I'm sorry, but you see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn and flipping off the person in front of you. I noticed the Choose Life license plate holder, the What Would Jesus Do? and the Follow Me to Church bumper stickers, and then the chrome-plated Christian fish emblem on the trunk lid. I just assumed you had stolen the car."
We know what “Jesus-love” is. We know when we fall short, and we know when we see the real thing in others. There are almost countless examples of Jesus-love on a grand scale. Here is one: In February 1941, Father Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish priest, was arrested by the Gestapo, sent to Auschwitz, and assigned to Barracks 14. One night a man escaped from that unit. The next morning there was tension as the ranks of skeletal-thin prisoners lined up for roll call in the square. The commandant ordered the dismissal of all but Barracks 14, who were forced to stand still in the hot sun all day long. By evening the fugitive had not been found. “Ten of you will die for him in the starvation bunker!" he screamed. This torture forced a person to go without food and water until death. After the ten were chosen, a cry rang out from one of the men chosen, "My poor children! My wife! What will they do?" Suddenly there was commotion in the ranks. Father Kolbe stepped out and calmly said, "Let me take his place.”
The commandant ordered it done. As the hours and days passed, the camp became aware of something extraordinary happening in the death cell. Past prisoners had spent their dying days howling and attacking one another in a frenzy of despair. But now, those outside heard the faint sound of singing. This time the prisoners had a shepherd to lead them gently through the shadow of the valley of death, pointing them to the Great Shepherd.
Jesus said, A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. Our calling as Christians is to love like Jesus.
In one of my wedding homilies I tell the story of a husband who often would express his deep love for his wife. He would take her into his arms, look into her eyes and say, “I would die for you.” The bigger picture comes into focus, however, when you hear what the wife finally said: “That’s wonderful, Dear, but while you are waiting to die for me would you mind helping me with dishes?” For most of us love is shown (or not shown) in the many small things. We are fooling ourselves if we think we can love with our literal lives when we are not willing to love with our time and money and basic attitudes.
You see, we are either loving like Jesus or living for ourselves. Our natural desire is to be comfortable, to get what we want, to do what we want. The idea of love is distorted by the world. We tend to think that “love” always results in warm, fuzzy feelings. We think that “love” will make everything good for everybody. Loving like Jesus means laying down our lives. True love, according to Jesus, is doing what is best for another when it is inconvenient ― even painful or deadly ― for ourselves. And the “others” we are to love are not merely those who love us. The real test of love is how one relates, not to saints, but to rascals.
God has provided a place for us to practice this. It is called the church. Think of how often we fall short of loving like Jesus right here in the church. We so easily complain about what we do not like, and we sometimes manipulate to get our own way. This is the opposite of laying down our lives in love. When we are critical and talking about others, we are selfishly pushing our own opinions and concerns. In contrast to that Jesus says, love one another.
What if all who followed Christ obeyed this command to love in the words they used? What if every person who claimed to follow Christ would choose to lay aside his own desires for the good of others around him? What if we humbly admitted that we do not always know what “the good of others” means? (The line between truth and love is often a knife-edge.) What if we looked for the best possible reasons for another’s behavior instead of so quickly assuming the worst?
I know this is a high standard, but if we do not keep God’s standard before us we’ll not keep growing toward the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Phil 3:14). We are called to be saints, and that means becoming like Jesus.... loving like Jesus.
Someone has said, “The height of our love for God will never exceed the depth of our love for one another.” Jesus puts it this way: love one another even as I have loved you.... By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.