Loving Like Jesus (Fifth Sunday of Easter)

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In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells his disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

And then Jesus goes on.  He says, in fact, that “by THIS, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  This isn’t just one of many things Jesus tells his disciples.  This is Jesus’ parting instruction.  It was his “final word” just before he headed to his death, and he knew it!  And if you’re about to die, and you have one thing you really want your friends to remember, you choose your words very carefully.  

Jesus could have said a lot of other things.  He could have said, “everyone will know that you are my disciples if you…”:

  • have the most correct and perfect theology …
  • are the most morally righteous people around …
  • become the most successful and popular group in town …

But Jesus didn’t say those things.  And it’s not as though Jesus was endorsing bad theology, or immoral behavior or making a virtue out of failure.  But in the end, Jesus was saying that if we want to be people who are identified by the world as disciples of Jesus, we need to be people who in our words and deeds and attitudes reflect God’s self-giving love.   That’s what God was doing in Jesus when Jesus died for us.  That’s why Jesus says that we also should love one another as he loved us.  And that’s why if we don’t reflect that kind of love, none of our theology, morality or success will matter.

But it’s also not as easy as it sounds.  Jesus doesn’t say “love people who love you back” or “love people who deserve your love.”  He simply says, “love one another” – that is, even the people you don’t get along with, even the people you don’t like and even the people you don’t know.

But how am I supposed to do that?  I mean, really Jesus, some of the folks you seem to want me to generate warm fuzzy feelings for are people I don’t even like!  And how can I really love somebody I don’t even know?

But in fact, Jesus isn’t asking us to generate (or pretend to have) warm, fuzzy feelings for one another.  Instead, when Jesus calls us to love one another, he’s calling us to a kind of love that isn’t based on our own fickle feelings. 

Jesus calls us to love one another with the kind of love that Jesus has shown for us.  And that kind of love is about:

  • Focusing on others, instead of on myself – from the beginning of the Gospel stories, Jesus shows God’s love by being willing to focus on the needs of others instead of on his needs.  He doesn’t do it just for his friends, or the people who love him back.  He does it because others need his focus – even strangers and even the people who are trying to kill him… (and this is the reason we’re having the auction, and why we’ve thought about the things that are really necessary to others when we have a yard sale…)
  • Empathy for others (not so much warm fuzzy feelings) – Jesus demonstrates this by washing the disciples’ feet (which he does right after this reading) – again not because he likes doing dirty work, but because in that culture, feet needed to be washed.  He cared about what others needed – even Judas, who was about to betray him… (most of us will not personally meet most of the people who get helped by our auction or our yard sale; and honestly, sometimes when I’ve met people I’ve been involved in helping, they don’t strike me as the most lovable people I’ve ever met!  But that’s not the point…)
  • Acting to help others, even people you don’t know and people who don’t appreciate it.  Jesus went to the cross to pay the price for everybody, even the people who crucified him.  And being willing to pay the price and even sacrifice yourself for the good of others is what God’s kind of love is really all about… (“thoughts and prayers” are good, and sometimes, it’s all we can do; but if thoughts and prayers are all we ever do, we’re not loving like Jesus.  We’re called to act, and we’re called to act even and especially when there’s a cost involved…)

Honestly, pretending to have warm, fuzzy feelings about other people would be a lot easier and less stressful!  Yet Jesus’ commandment isn’t to generate warm, fuzzy feelings, or even to pretend to like other people!  It’s instead about living our lives in ways that reflect God’s love in our interactions with others, even people we don’t know; and even people we might not like if we did get to know them!

But it’s by living the kind of love Jesus lived that we show the world that we’re his disciples.  It’s by living the kind of love Jesus lived that we make God’s love a tangible reality in the lives of others.  And it’s by living the kind of love that Jesus lived that we, too, live into the new life of Jesus’ Resurrection.