A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

How Can Love Be Commanded? A Lectionary Reflection on John 13:31-35

John 13:31-35

We obey commands all the time, many of them without even thinking about them. We see a stop sign and put on the brakes of our car accordingly. Speed limit signs are often ignored, but at least when we are driving too fast, the presence of the sign will not allow us to plead ignorance when stopped by the police. We also follow commands from our childhood without even realizing we are doing so. My mother taught me to hold the door open for others and to say thank you. I do both regularly. I guess it can be said that I am still obeying my mom, even though I am 51. Many things can be commanded, but other things seem to defy commanded. I can be commanded to eat liver, but I cannot be commanded to like it. The doctor may insist that I have a colonoscopy, but I cannot be told to enjoy it. Some things just cannot be commanded.

In John's Gospel Jesus commands the disciples to love each other. How can anyone be told they have to love someone? How I came to love my wife was not something that could be forced upon me; and if I am honest with myself, there are certain people I have encountered in life I do not like. I don't wish any ill will to be upon them; indeed, I even pray for them. But it is my preference not to spend too much time with them; and by the way, I don't assume everyone I know likes me either. No matter what anyone says, I cannot be forced to like anyone. So, how can Jesus insist that we love one another?

It's very interesting that Jesus' love command occurs just after Judas' leaves to betray Jesus, and just before Jesus' announcement to Peter that he will denying knowing his Lord. If we reduce love to a feeling alone, we will never understand what Jesus is saying here. First and foremost, love is action in seeking the best for the neighbor. Judas and Peter will reveal their lack of love for Jesus in betrayal and denial. Is it any wonder that after his resurrection Jesus asks Peter, "Do you love me?" Notice that Jesus' response to Peter's professed love is for him to act-- "Feed my sheep."

What is interesting is if we the followers of Jesus act in such loving ways toward one another, over time we will grow together in grace and will develop a true fondness for one another. The feelings don't come first; they are the result of love being displayed, being lived out toward one another on a daily basis. When two people first get married, their love may be more the result of hormones than genuine affection, but over the years as they grow together in love and as they look back at their life together, they can see their affection for each other growing over time. Acting in love changes the one who so loves and is loved.

Jesus has commanded his disciples to love one another. This is not optional on our part. And it is the kind of love that Jesus has displayed toward us in his life and ministry. That kind of love led him to the cross.

Such love is not for the faint of heart.

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