Jesus commands us to love one another. And we don’t bat an eye. Maybe we’ve heard it so many times that we’re immune to it. Jesus’ command is hard! Love one another as I have loved you. How can Jesus command us to love someone? My mother couldn’t make me love stewed tomatoes on a bed of saltine crackers—did your mother serve that, or was it just mine? It didn’t matter how many times that appeared on the table, I couldn’t like it, much less love it. Can you command children to love Brussels sprouts or beets? Can you command your children to love each other? Really, no. I can remember my father telling my sister and me that we had to say we were sorry to each other after a fight. What a travesty that was. Neither one of us was sorry. But we were obedient. “Sorry,” we’d each say and we’d skulk off. We were obedient for a long time before we really did care about each other. Being obedient helped us to grow up safely. And now we are more than willing to make sacrifices for each other. Our parents cared that we loved each other, because they loved both of us. It took us awhile to learn to love each other. I’ll bet it took the disciples a couple of years to learn to love each other. I’m not talking about warm, fuzzy emotion-based love, but respectful, honoring, agape love—the kind of love that desires only good for the other person and thinks only the best, even when there is not an emotional connection—especially when there is not an emotional connection.
When we’re new at this spiritual stuff, God commands us to respect and honor each other. That’s the basis of the law and the prophets. Respect, fairness, honoring the person and property of the other, justice, hospitality, care for the alien among you, and the widow and the orphan. But as we mature through obedience, our love for God should grow as well, until God’s desires become our desires. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work. For Jesus, there is a connection between mature love for God and sharing that kind of love with one’s neighbor. Mature love propelled Jesus into his community with a desire to love others as he experienced God’s love. God’s desires became his desires.
Immature faith is really kind of nice. I like living in God’s love. I like the one-way street of God loving me. It’s very comfortable there. I prefer it when all the love comes my way. But mature faith requires that I grow beyond my childhood faith, and become faithful. Jesus calls his disciples to a two-way street where they have as much responsibility for him as he has for them. They were chosen to be in the kind of mature, nurturing, transformative relationship that makes compassion and love for others possible. The author of the gospel uses the word “chosen,” a deeply meaningful word to Jewish disciples that he graciously extends to Samaritan Christians who had become a part of the Johannine community. But the truth is that all human beings are not only chosen for love, we are created for love. We are created needing love to thrive. And we are created to love others so that they may thrive and so that the community reflects God’s very character.
Several years ago, I gave a training session in adult advocacy and good boundaries for helping professions to the staff of Deaconess Children’s Services. One of the staff members recited her rule of thumb: she works on a one-way street. The care for her clients goes one way. Everything that she does is intended for the benefit of the children or families that she is working with. That’s an excellent illustration of Jesus’ care for his disciples and his ministry within his community. It was a one-way street. But in this passage, Jesus asks his disciples to step up to a more mature faith and participate in ministry alongside him, to be his friends and colleagues instead of students. The ministry is no longer only for their benefit. Now, they are to do ministry that benefits others; to do for others what has been done for them; loving others as they have been loved. Jesus calls us to be partners with him in the saving work of love. It starts with obedience to a commandment and grows into partnership with God and genuine caring. At this time of year, we say something similar to graduates: Up until this time, it’s all been about you. Now it’s your turn. You’re grown up now. You have been nurtured to make a difference in the world.
Can’t you just see the disciples looking at each other saying, “I’m not ready. Shouldn’t we have had more training?” The truth is that we learn by being obedient and doing the work. The students in my Ministerial and Theological Integration course often complain in the fall that they’ve been thrown into ministry in their internships without enough training. They ask, “Who am I to walk into someone’s hospital room?” But at the end of spring quarter, they shine in their ministries. They love the people they serve and can’t imagine not continuing in their internships in some way. I want to share a poem with you. Sherry Castro served as an intern at the Washington Correctional Center for Women at Purdy in 2001. “At the beginning of the internship she wanted to simply go off by herself and write religious stories. She was reluctant to find a context that would be with other persons.” But listen to the poem she wrote after obediently following Jesus into the women’s prison.
“For the Women”
If I had known how deeply you would wound my soul,
Would I have come?
If I had known that coming would alter the rest of my life,
Would I have come?
If I had known how profoundly you would touch me and change me,
Would I have come?
I don’t know – I really don’t know.
Rapid transformation can be frightening –
but slow transformation is deep,
soul-binding and irreversible.
I’d never seen your eyes before, held your hand,
sung your music,
heard your story, seen your bruises and
scars, prayed your pain,
cried your poetry—
No, I didn’t have to come here –
I could have gone on with my life as it was –
happy to be in the pew –
happy to think I was doing ministry –
happy not know you were here.
You and I were created for love. How will you let yourself be changed by sharing God’s love?