“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (John 13:34)
The trouble is, it is far too easy to hate others.
We live in volatile times. Our anxiety and other emotions are high, our fuses are short, and with plenty of blame to go around for “how we got here” it is much easier to take out our frustrations on other people with violence, cruelty and indifference than to do the difficult work of getting to root causes, doing deep listening, and owning our own participation in destructive systems and actions. Many of us, most of the time, have no idea what to do about this reality. We can feel lost and hopeless.
Yet Jesus summarizes his message with one command:
“Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12a)
What does this mean?
To understand what Jesus is calling his disciples to do and become; it is beneficial to read the entirety of John 13-17. In the fourth gospel’s version of the upper room before his arrest and crucifixion – Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. It is a self-giving act of hospitality and care reserved for the lowest in the household to offer both guests and those of higher status as they entered a home.
Jesus takes the form of a servant and washes their feet, modeling his message by calling all of his disciples into a life of service to others.
In the conversation that follows, Jesus tells them of coming betrayal (John 13:21-30) and denial (John 13:36-38) and yet stays with them. He proclaims himself to be the way, the truth, and the life when they don’t know which way to go (John 14:1-14). He promises the coming Holy Spirit as their advocate (John 14:15-31). He reiterates their ongoing connection by declaring himself the vine (his father the vinegrower and his disciples the branches [John 15:1-11]). He reasserts the mission: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:12). Jesus warns that the world will reject and hate them as they hate and reject him (John 15:18-25). He explains to them again that the Spirit is coming (John 15:26-16:24). He promises them his peace (John 16:25-33). Jesus prays for them (John 17) before they leave the upper room and the events of his passion unfold (John 18-19). Jesus does this all out of love; a love that will cost him his life. It is a love that will give them his life. It is Christ’s life we still share.
This type of selfless, life-giving love is what Jesus calls us to share with one another. It is not generic love without context. It is not hokey love without any responsibility. It is not a shallow love without any consequences. It is love that embeds itself in the reality of human brokenness, heartbreak, disappointment and imperfection – creating something new.
This love washes, feeds, forgives and welcomes. This love knows the cost yet offers it freely. This love values the life and dignity of all others. This love takes the position of a servant rather than as the master. This love lays down one’s life for one’s friends.
In this love, Jesus shares his life crucified and risen; the life of restored people sharing in community; the life of generosity and gratitude; the life of celebration without limitation. The life of the Spirit is poured upon us.
In a small group Bible study I am part of one person stated, “Love requires action.” Our shared life in Christ offers a difficult yet straightforward path to resist the hatred, fear, anxiety, indifference and finger-pointing of this world by taking action. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
-What actions do you/can you/should you take to show Christ-like love to those around you to welcome them home?
-Who do you know that could use that kind of love?
-What is holding you back from taking action?