This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
NORMAN MANEA, SURVIVOR OF NAZIS AND CEAUSESCU, SAYS, “IN 2000 YEARS WE HAVE NOT LEARNED TO LOVE OUR NEIGHBOUR.”
J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)
19-20 From now onwards, I shall tell you about things before they happen, so that when they do happen, you may believe that I am the one I claim to be. I tell you truly that anyone who accepts my messenger will be accepting me, and anyone who accepts me will be accepting the one who sent me.”
21 After Jesus had said this, he was clearly in anguish of soul, and he added solemnly, “I tell you plainly, one of you is going to betray me.”
22-24 At this the disciples stared at each other, completely mystified as to whom he could mean. And it happened that one of them who Jesus loved, was sitting very close to him. So Simon Peter nodded to this man and said, “Tell us who he means.”
25 He simply leaned forward on Jesus’ shoulder, and asked, “Lord, who is it?”
26-27 And Jesus answered, “It is the one I am going to give this piece of bread to, after I have dipped it in the dish.” Then he took a piece of bread, dipped it in the dish and gave it to Simon’s son, Judas Iscariot. After he had taken the piece of bread, Satan entered his heart. Then Jesus said to him, “Be quick about your business!”
28-30 No one else at table knew what he meant in telling him this. Indeed, some of them thought that, since Judas had charge of the purse, Jesus was telling him to buy what they needed for the festival, or that he should give something to the poor. So Judas took the piece of bread and went out quickly—into the night.
31-35 When he had gone, Jesus spoke, “Now comes the glory of the Son of Man, and the glory of God in him! If God is glorified through him then God will glorify the Son of Man—and that without delay. Oh, my children, I am with you such a short time! You will look for me and I have to tell you as I told the Jews, ‘Where I am going, you cannot follow.’ Now I am giving you a new command—love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you must love one another. This is how all men will know that you are my disciples, because you have such love for one another.”
This passage leads up to Jesus’ final command to his disciples. It is all to do with the command being new although Jesus had doubtless commanded mutual love many times before. “Now I am giving you a new command,” Jesus says, referring to his arrest, trial and crucifixion. It is this suffering of Jesus which makes the command new. defining that love in a new way. Jesus’ love includes his love for Judas who is about to betray him. Jesus’ love includes his readiness to leave his loved ones to confront worldly and religious power, evil and death on their behalf. Jesus’ love includes going where they cannot go, into the heart of darkness, into the heart of God. This love which is given to them and transforms them, is also a command. “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” It is a love that goes beyond sentiment. It is an unwavering commitment to the welfare of the loved one, grounded in truth, expressed in sacrifice, nourished by faith in God.
This is commanded not by words but by Jesus’ life of which the culmination is his going to God via the cross.
Of course we should question the love of Jesus’ disciples for one another. In Scotland, my country, there are still people for whom the labels “Catholic” and “Protestant” are more important than anything Jesus said or did. Yet the divisions amongst Christians, scandalous as they are, bear witness to the difficulty of a love which must be grounded in truth. It cannot be for the welfare of another that we ignore what we believe is a disabling untruth. But if we then try to harm or destroy our fellow disciples we show that we are more afraid of them exposing our untruth than confident we can expose theirs. Our fear and our desire for power have killed our love. Jesus’ love was also for Judas, who had become his enemy, whose mind was possessed by a lie and whose heart by evil. Jesus’ sacrifice was for Judas also.
Sure, Christians are not very good at obeying Jesus’ command. Yet in the modest kindliness and often sacrificial caring of many Christian communities, there is a challenge to the individualism, shallow sentimentality and carelessness of capitalist culture. The disciplines of communal commitment are still expressed in many churches to the great benefit of their members and their neighbourhoods. It would be unwise to underestimate the power of the commandment issued by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.