Here is the heart of Christian teaching, its very essence. “Love one another as I have loved you.” This is what it is all about, Jesus tells his disciples. Expressing the greatest love there is, he gave his life for his friends. Because of his sacrifice, we know that death has no power over us. And having showed us this, Jesus issues the greatest commandment. “Do as I have done. Love one another.”
We can try to parse the meaning of this commandment. “What is ‘love’ really? If I don’t hate a person isn’t that enough? What do I have to ‘do’ to love somebody? Do I have to take care of them? Isn’t that compromising their independence? Shouldn’t people reap the consequences of their behavior? The warm regard I have for people in, for instance, my family certainly counts, doesn’t it?”
That failing, we can hedge. We can say that of course we’d give our lives for each other if somebody really needed us to do that. We’d take a bullet aimed at a child or jump in the ocean to save someone who is drowning or rush into a burning building. But nobody really needs that right now, so we’ll wait until they do.
However, we know what love means to Jesus. It is not a warm, fuzzy feeling; it is a commitment, an allegiance. It really does mean valuing the other person’s welfare as highly as we do our own and giving ourselves over as slaves to their well being. It means serving them – washing their feet.
And the laying-down-our-lives thing is meant to be something that happens in the moment, day after day. It means crossing the street to be with an outcast rather than the other way around. It means giving up that five dollars I was going to spend on a sandwich – or giving up the sandwich. It means admitting I was wrong and apologizing, admitting that I don’t really know something my political party has been “selling,” or admitting I made a mistake and asking for forgiveness. It means forgiving the wrongs done to me, even when the perpetrator doesn’t admit them. It means letting go of all the stuff I hang on to. It means doing what I know the other person really needs me to do – right here and right now.
I fall very short of living Jesus’ commandment to love, very short indeed. And so I pray for help, for grace. “Forgive me, Beloved. Help me do better. Teach me to do better.”
And Christ directs me to notice what is in my moments. Are there other people? What would help them? “What is needed now?” he asks. And then, a little later, “And what is needed – now?”