May 5, Word

In today’s Gospel Story (John 15:9-17) Jesus says, “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you”. We we hear the word “commandment” we tend to think of a law that has consequences for disobeying it — sin and punishment. This is not what Jesus has in mind here. He shows us how to live as we are created, to have a sense of responsibility beyond our own comfort and convenience. 

In John’s Gospel you are speaking these words to your disciples at the Last Supper, calling them to imitate you, live lives of loving service to others as you did. In his version of  the Last Supper John does not talk about the Bread and Wine, but about following you in loving service to others. It is easier to focus on you really present in the Eucharist than to recognize you really present in the migrants at our southern border, in people on all sides of the Hamas Israel war, in the students demonstrating on college campuses, in everybody around me. Recognizing you really present in the Eucharist is relatively easy, it does not necessarily call for any personal commitment, whereas recognizing you present in migrants at the borders and people on all sides of the Hamas Israel war can make serious personal demands. I have to keep asking what you are saying to me in all this.

Any who try to live your words will find them a real challenge. For some it seems that what you teach does not apply when it is politically inconvenient. Throughout history people trying to discern what you are calling them to have found themselves on a rough road. I’ve been told often, and at times forcefully, “that Gospel stuff is okay for church, but not for real life, so don’t tell us how to live”. These words are politically inconvenient, controversial, and unpopular. The attitudes toward our migrant sisters and brothers is a good example. Folks trying to help them are in for a hard time. This issue has become political and emotional. It is easier to rant and rave, blame and accuse, than to do something that will help people, or to be open to the Spirit and be surprised how things unfold. In our own day, the violence of the Hamas Israel situation has spawned yet more violence around the world. Its is easier to point fingers, accuse, make demands, issue threats, than to look at my own way of living and ask am I doing anything to work toward peace, or am I adding to the suffering? As the thinking goes, if I can blame others, I’m home free.

You had a special desire in reaching out to any people that systems, whether religious or political, caused to suffer in any way, people who were seen as outcasts and not worthy to enjoy God’s love. Yet, even in our own day, systems claiming to act in your name, are causing good folks to suffer simply because others don’t like something about them. We have whole categories of people that are seen as outcasts and undesirables, and have convinced ourselves that you, who did nothing like this, would agree with us.

If I am serious about being your disciple, trying to live by the same values as you lived, I can’t expect to win any popularity contests. As you said at the Last Supper, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they kept my word, they will also keep yours; and they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know the one who sent me”. Do I know the one who sent you, or am I creating my own fantasy to make myself feel good? Can I really accept, believe, and live your words, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain”? Do I even want to believe them? Am I so used to blaming, criticizing, condemning people I don’t like for any reason that I don’t want to change? Can I really believe you are calling me “friend”? What do you mean? Maybe I can learn to keep asking what you are saying to me in the people who are in my life, those I know well as well and those I see through brief encounters, people I like and people I don’t like. It’s all you somehow.

Following you, trying to live as your disciple,  involves ongoing transformation, continual learning and growing. Where I am now always leads to my next step. You promised to send the Spirit to give me insight as to what following you means for me in my living. And so I have to ask you, what do you mean, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete; this is my commandment, Love one another as I have loved you”? I love you only as much as the person I love the least, and so I have a real problem here. I’m not doing much loving. I’m focused too much on my comfort and convenience.

I look at my own country, my own church, see the polarization, anger, and violence, a good bit of it done allegedly in your name, and wonder what are you saying to me here. You say, “I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father”? What do you mean? What am I supposed to do with it? This past week I have been with many suffering, fearful, often angry, people. Divisions among longstanding religious traditions are causing anger and suffering. Good people are just walking off and finding their own way to do some good. In all honesty I’ve been thinking along those lines myself. It’s kinda hard to find joy in all this, yet, I know joy in my own life, and even peace as I ramble along wondering. 

I don’t know what it means to love others as you love me, yet this is what you are calling me to do, how you are calling me to live. Paying attention to my living, what’s going on around me, being open to you, wondering, has something to do with it, not thinking I already have all the answers. There’s enough of that going on already – lots of knowing, little questioning. The basic question remains — what are you saying to me in this?  Just sayin .  .  .