Message for the Fifth Sunday of Easter 2015:
‘Love One Another’ Based on: John 13: 31-35
So, here we are the fifth Sunday after Easter and our lectionary is taking us back to the time just before Good Friday, which is a bit unexpected at first! But the message Jesus is leaving his disciples is for future planning purposes, you could say, so I do suppose that’s why we’re going back to Good Friday after Easter Sunday! The gospel reading starts with “When Judas had gone out…” Well, just before he left, Jesus and the twelve were at supper together on the day before that last Passover before Jesus went to the cross. Jesus had washed his disciples’ feet, and told them that one in their midst would betray him. By this time the devil had already put it in Judas’ heart to betray Jesus. And of course Jesus knew that, and he knew as well that his own time had come. So, Jesus tells Judas to go and do what he must do.
So after Judas leaves, Jesus takes this time to give the disciples what amounts to his parting words, final words of loving wisdom. Jesus knows he is soon to die. And he speaks lovingly and tenderly to the eleven who are in the room with him: “Little children, I am with you only a little longer…. Where I am going you cannot come.” As one of the commentators1 I read suggested, these are the words of one who is, in effect, on his death bed. These are words that must be listened too, respected and adhered to, death bed words are sacred words, they are to be revered and remembered. What does Jesus tell them? “I give you a new commandment, that you are to love another, just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
Well, that really doesn’t sound so new; the command to love one another is a really old. “Love your neighbour as yourself” is from the time of the writings of the book of Leviticus, the third book of the Torah, written some 500 years or so before Jesus’ life. And Jesus reiterates this law in his time too; remember the story of the religious lawyer who asks Jesus what he needs to do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus turns the question right back at his and says, ‘What do the law and scriptures say?’ And the lawyer says “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbour as yourself.” Jesus tells him he’s right on, and to go and do it!
So how then, is “You are to love one another” a new commandment? It’s the qualifiers Jesus adds to it: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples. (vv 34-35)
This is more than loving your neighbour as yourself; this is loving the other like Jesus loved them, this is loving Jesus- style. This takes the “love your neighbour as yourself” commandment, up a notch doesn’t it? Instead of loving others as you want to be loved, it’s loving them as God loves them, as we would want God to love us. And what’s different about that, what would this mean for his disciples, what does this mean for us, we who call ourselves followers of Christ? Well, what had he just done with the disciples? Washed their feet—a task generally left to the most menial of household servants. Jesus had shown him what it meant to love one another. Serve one another, be the servant, the helper, no pulling rank, class or financial status. Loving others unconditionally, no matter who or what they are. And so, ‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples…” (v 35)
Jesus had chosen this group to teach them, to mold them, to show them how to once again live as the people of God, to help them really understand how the Lord God loved them. These guys were far from perfect themselves. They messed up, they missed the point, did not get his teachings or live by them; they too failed over and over again. He would call them out on it when they were off the mark, but was exceedingly understanding, loving, compassionate and patient with them. He had put himself in service to them, and to others — men, women, children, even Romans and non-Jews. This is what he was teaching them. Jesus had chosen these disciples especially to love and show them God’s love, and now he was giving them a new twist on the old commandment, love others in the same way that I have loved you. And this is how others will know that you are my followers. Tall order!
How do we love like Jesus? How and who do we choose to love? Now, I’m not suggesting we all become foot care nurses or soap box evangelists, but how do we live like Jesus loved? Admittedly, some are easier to love than others, and it easy to love the loveable ones. The challenge is loving the not so loveable ones…. Let me share this story with you from Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen. This book is “Isak Dinesen’s memoir of her years in Africa, from 1914 to 1931, on a four-thousand-acre coffee plantation in the hills near Nairobi. She had come to Kenya from Denmark with her husband, and when they separated she stayed on to manage the farm by herself.”2
There is a story in … (the) book about a boy named Kitau. He appeared at the author’s door one day to ask for a job as a domestic servant. She hired him but was surprised when after three months he asked her for a letter of recommendation to Sheik Ali bin Salim a Muslim who lived in a nearby town. Dinesen offered to raise Kitau’s pay in order to keep him, but money was not his interest. Kitau had decided to become either a Christian or a Muslim, and his purpose in working for Dinesen had been to see, up close, the way a Christian lived. Now that he had worked for Dinesen and seen the ways of Christians, he would go and observe Sheik Ali to see how Muslims behave; then he would decide. The author remembers how she wished Kitau had told her that before he came to live with her.3
I can tell you, when I first read that, it most certainly gave me pause.
Let me leave you with a couple of parting questions, for your consideration in the week to come.
Think about the past couple of weeks: When did you love like Jesus?
Then think, when didn’t you?
When did you fail to love. And then consider, how could you love like Jesus the next time?
Rev. JoAnn Todd
The Anglican Parish of Hanover – Durham
1 Gary D. Jones in Pastoral Perspective for John 13: 31-35 in Feasting on the Word, Year C Vol. 2 p. 468 1
2 http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/781787.Out_of_Africa accessed April 19, 2016
3 Gary D. Jones: p 472