5-6-15 - Love One Another

I don’t know many people likely to be asked to lay down their lives for friends, though some under persecution or threat of war are faced with such choices. The highest sacrifice asked of most of us is that we lay aside our prerogatives, preferences, convenience for our friends.

Much more was asked of the friends Jesus was addressing on his last night in human life. He set a pretty high standard for friendship: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

He knew what was ahead – for him, and for them. The persecution that would be unleashed on Jesus’ followers after his arrest, crucifixion and resurrection would eventually claim the lives of most of those with him at that momentous Last Supper. Before they could offer that kind of sacrifice, though, they would have to be willing to truly love each other. Jesus had said that keeping his commandments would enable them to abide in his love. “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”

Now he spells out the heart of that mandatum novum.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

"But we do love each other," they may have thought. After all, they’d spent three years in close quarters and sometimes no quarters at all. But the gospels tell us how much squabbling and jockeying went on among these disciples. And no matter what affection they may have had for each other, Jesus was now upping the stakes: they were to love each other as he loved them. That was a love that laid down everything to draw near them, that bore with their misjudgments and inability to grasp the ways of the Kingdom Jesus was trying to inculcate in them. That was a love that would ultimately lead to sacrificial death, and then an empty grave and new life beyond comprehension.

These men and women were to be the agents of sharing that new life with the world. They couldn’t do that if they didn’t love each other as Jesus had loved them. And so he commanded them to love, even unto death.

We are the beneficiaries of their love. The legacy they left, though it developed all the strains and dysfunction common to human institutions, also grew into the incubator and container from which sacrificial love can pour out in God’s mission. That kind of love is asked of us as well if we are to be part of God’s reclaiming, restoring, and renewing all things to wholeness.

How do we love like that? We can begin with allowing Jesus to love us like that, to truly take in the depth and breadth of his love, not only “back then” but now, forever and always. Those moments in which we grasp the extent of God’s love for us, deserved or not, help form us as vessels of that love for others.

We can also ask Jesus to show us his love for people we find it a challenge to love. His vision can help us love people when it’s difficult to get past what we see and hear in them.

The church of Jesus Christ is increasingly divided among factions and peoples who find it nearly impossible to "love one another as he has loved us." It’s no wonder our proclamation has so little impact. So we have ample opportunity to practice loving those who interpret the Good News is ways that radically diverge from our ways of seeing, who seem to us to miss the whole point of Jesus’ grace and love. That's who we are commanded to love. Yikes!

And if we can find a way to love one another across the barriers that separate us? I do believe the world will finally know that Love of which we are stewards.

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