Wow! Read the Bible from cover to cover and you won’t find this much love packed into so few lines anywhere else. In the eight verses of this week’s gospel, love is mentioned nine times. If the New Testament is a love letter from God, then this passage is a great big hug from Jesus. Love is the essence of Jesus. He gets it from the Father and he gives it to us in overflowing abundance. It is ours for the taking and for the sharing. We are meant to be links in a chain of love … bound to each other and to the Father through the saving grace of the Redeemer.
But don’t let all this love stuff confuse you. There is nothing mushy or sentimental about the love of Christ. It is literally a matter of life and death. Jesus gave his life for us. He expects us to reciprocate… not as a transactional exchange, but as an affirmation of our inseparable union with the will of the Father, the love of the Son and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
The life we give to Jesus is our timid, self-centered, mortal one. The life he gives back to us is a joyful, blessed, immortal one. Not a bad deal. If only we are bright enough to take it and to keep it. But we are so easily diverted. How often we are fickle and lack focus. How easily our devotion becomes distraction. Yet Jesus loves us as we are. He is constant when we are confused. He cuts right through the silly trivia that we have made our priorities and ambitions. Our feelings come and go. His love for us does not.
Fortunately, we are made in God’s image. He is not made in ours. C.S. Lewis makes the point that: “He is not proud. He will have us even though we have shown that we prefer everything else to him, and we come to him because there is nothing better to be had.” Yet even when Christ’s love is our last resort, it is always our best resort.
Fully aware of our failings, Jesus pays each of us the ultimate compliment. In this gospel, our God calls us “friends.” He invites imitation of his love. He dissects and explains that love … its origins, its purposes, its ends and our unique place in his plan. As the old spiritual says: “What a friend we have in Jesus.”
The love of our friend Jesus is not a warm and fuzzy feeling meant to induce a sleepy, satisfied sense of spiritual well-being. It is a battle cry… a call to action… a charge to actively, energetically, materially pass on and share the love of Christ. Love your neighbor is not a suggestion. It is God’s bedrock commandment. And lest there be any confusion, Jesus tells us plainly: This is my commandment: Love one another as I have loved you. In Romans:13, Paul equates this dynamic of the New Covenant with that of the Old… simply put: He who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. As such, love is our positive response to all the “shall not’s” that Moses took down from Mt. Sinai. Love is God’s grace in action. It is meant to fill our hearts and leave no void for sin to seep in.
For all its lovely, lyrical beauty this gospel contains Christianity’s essential challenge in the starkest terms: Love the stranger and the inconvenient… love the ungrateful and the annoying… love the broken and the destitute… love the aged and the addicted… love the sinner. They are all our neighbors. We must love them all.
Orders don’t get any taller than that. Yet every step of the way, Jesus will be there to guide and comfort us. The more we reach out… the more we serve… the more we put his love into action… the closer we get to the imitation of Christ… the more we will feel his arms around us in a hug that tells us: You bear my love. You are protected. You are mine. And in my love, everything is going to be OK.
The Reverend David Sellery, Episcopal Priest, Author, and Coach. Fr. Sellery presently serves as Priest-in-Charge, St. John’s Salisbury, CT. Fr. Sellery has excelled at using new media to increase outreach beyond the Church doors via his website, blog posts, and podcasts.
Image: By Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK (LOVE Montreal Uploaded by tm), via Wikimedia Commons