John 13:31-35 – The 5th Sunday of Easter – for Sunday, April 24, 2016
“I give you a new commandment . . .” (John 13:34)
The golden rule.
You know it.
I know it.
Everyone knows . . .
Do unto others as you would like them to do to you.
The rule of reciprocity is one of its fancier names. Whether one is monotheistic, atheistic, agnostic, polytheistic, philosophical, animistic, or gleefully blending many faith traditions, nearly everyone, anywhere in the world, can recite a version of the “golden rule.” Like threatening with a clenched a fist, asking for a Coke, saying “Okay,” or answering with a “Huh?” the golden rule may be as universal an understanding as contentious, stubborn, intolerant humans have ever had.
The golden rule seems perfect!
Or . . . maybe not.
What if you’ve been abused, bullied, or ignored during the so-called “formative years?” What if the more-lead-than-gold ways you were treated became the dismal blueprint for responses to others? The simplicity of the golden rule tarnishes its luster if reciprocity is practiced by a life made miserable through horrible circumstances.
Jesus, no surprise, muddied the golden rule’s calm waters.
Only in John’s Gospel did Jesus state: “Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other.” In that Gospel, and in a tradition that continued, it was referred to as the new commandment.
Is Jesus’ statement the golden rule?
Yes? No? Different? I think it’s worse. And also better. It was, with the same stunning simplicity, a distinctive enough twist on the rule of reciprocity to twist heads and hearts around. There have been times when I wished the writer of the fourth Gospel had deleted what eventually became known as John 13:31-35. That chapter would read just fine—thank you very much—if the actions went from Judas’ betrayal to Peter’s denial.
[Please, scan the entire chapter here. Without verses 31-35, this section is still a swell read. Right?]
How can I love like Jesus?
I can betray like Judas! And I’ve got proof!! Somewhere, in my home office, buried in a faded-to-yellow file folder, are my divorce papers from 1979. I betrayed vows of a lifetime! I betrayed vows before many witnesses while invoking God’s name. I’ve done even worse betrayal in my life, but at least my divorce has a 20th century paper trail!!
I can deny nearly as well as old Peter! I may not have court documents to flaunt, but various shades of denial are an essential part of my skill set. I’m sure you’ll forgive me the times, as a pesky kid, that I denied breaking or hiding or losing something (and tried to blame my older sister). And then, when my parents urged me to tell the truth, I continued to claim my feeble deceit. But what about the adult lies? Oh, they are legion . . .
And yet love like Jesus?
Is that what is expected of me?
No it’s not.
Loving as Jesus loved is easy.
Here I am tempted to list the things that are easy to do (or not do) when following Jesus’ way. But my list would be influenced by when and where and how I was raised. My list would be tainted by my version of being Christian. My list would be a response to the embarrassing or humiliating actions done against me. My list would reflect my blame or shame, my private fears and public anger.
Following Jesus should be listless.
But not literally, not in the dictionary way of “lacking energy.” Listless in the sense that no personal “naughty” or “nice” categories can define or confine the ways we must energetically and openly love another.
Follow the golden rule?
Love as Jesus loved?
Umm . . .
Ahh . . .
Well . . .
Gulp . . .
Though mostly speechless, please help me strive to be listless.
[The painting is Valentin de Boulogne – “Last Supper” from here.]