John 15:9-17 – The 6th Sunday of Easter – for Sunday, May 10, 2015
“This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)
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’s chapter 13.
Regardless of where it’s found or repeated, I’m afraid of that simple, thirteen-words-in-English sentence.
Since seminary, and perhaps before, I’ve known 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, which is the one I fear, which is the one Jesus frequently used.
Love. Agape. I cringe.
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.
Love you, man.
They’re in love.
We made love.
Lovesick. Puppy love. Lovelorn.
I loved a meal, a movie, a car, a vacation, a lipstick. Really?
* * *
Why be fearful of Jesus’ love?
Because Bonhoeffer was correct. Jesus’ love was and is illuminating. Or as Anne Lamott recently mused on the occasion of her 61st birthday: “The mystery of grace is that God loves Dick Cheney and me exactly as much as He or She loves your grandchild. Go figure.” Or maybe you actually love (philia) Dick Cheney and so you don’t grasp Lamott’s bitter humor about the former Vice-President. Try substituting a politician you despise or the family member who drives you nuts. What Jesus taught was that God loves ‘em all . . . unconditionally.
It’s 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 on September 11, or an Adolf Hitler, or a Richard Nixon—and 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 care about, like any of the 1,400,575,550 current people in China, none of whom I’ve ever met and, frankly, have no time or interest in meeting? (If you follow the population link, China’s population will have grown since I wrote this. More people to not care about?)
How can I “love” any of those people on the second floor of the office building where I work? I’m a first floor guy, and we have our own break room and bathroom and I could go days, even weeks, with never climbing the stairs to spend any time with those people who work up there.
How can I “love” a Los Angeles Dodger’s fan?
How can I “love” someone who has broken my 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 . . .
I’m not surprised John’s Gospel repeated Jesus’ mandate in multiple places. While revising this essay, it became obvious I was writing nothing original. But the tough truth is that I struggle 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.