The Holy Gospel is from John the 13th Chapter.
When Judas had gone out, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, "Where I am going, you cannot come.' I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."The Gospel of our Lord.
Do you remember those pastel-colored heart shaped candies stamped with phrases like: “Be Mine,” “Hugs” “Love you”? Called “Sweethearts,” they weren’t known for their sweet taste – they actually tasted kind of chalky. And yet, until the company was sold this year, every year people bought 8 billion of these little candies just for their little sweet sentimental messages.
But in our Gospel lesson, Jesus is not being sentimental or sweet when he commands his disciples to “love one another.” These verses are taken from the scripture we read on Maundy Thursday. The disciples are gathered in an Upper Room for the Passover Feast in Jerusalem. Lots happened this week. Jesus came into Jerusalem, riding a donkey. People hail him as Lord and Messiah. People from other places want to see Jesus. This should be a time of triumph, a celebratory dinner, a feast!
But Jesus, knowing that he did not have much time left with his disciples, wanted to teach them a lesson that they would remember. So he took off his robe, wrapped a towel around himself, and, like a servant, began washing their feet. Remember, Jesus had just been proclaimed King and Messiah! This was a job for servants. And yet, when Peter protests, Jesus insists. He wants to demonstrate servant leadership and the length that he will go because of his great love for them. Washing their feet was just the beginning.
Jesus also fed them – taking the bread – giving it to them and saying, this is my body… take and eat… and he took the cup and gave it for them to drink, saying, drink this – all of you… All of you, even Judas. And then, after giving Judas a piece of bread, Jesus sent him out, knowing that Judas was going to betray him.
It was only then... after Jesus had demonstrated servant love – by washing their feet and feeding even of the one who was about to betray him – that Jesus gives his disciples the commandment: “love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
These were Jesus’ chosen disciples. They had been traveling together. Together they witnessed Jesus’ miracles. Together they heard Jesus’ teaching. Together they ate and drank and slept. One might assume that they were all one big band of brothers, all best friends. But, that’s probably not the case.
At a conference this past week, I was reminded of just how different Jesus’ followers were from one another and how challenging it must have been for them to get along – let alone love one another. Take a look with me at just a few of them.
Peter – a fisherman by trade, had no screen on his words – he just said whatever he thought. Sometimes it was inspired and sometimes… not. He would not have been the easiest person to get along with on a road trip.
And what about James and John? Jesus called these two brothers, “Sons of Thunder.” That could be a clue to their personality. Luke reports that they asked Jesus if they could call down fire and thunder upon the unbelievers. Jesus said no. They also asked Jesus for a favor – out of earshot of the rest of the disciples – if they could claim the seats of honor, and sit on his right and on his left when he came into his kingdom. These two were not real team players. Again… Jesus said no.
And then there was Simon the Zealot. Zealots believed God gave the kingdom to Israel and they had the right to get it back – by any means. The ulta-Zealots were the terrorists of the day. They carried a knife with them at all times and were prepared to assassinate traitors and those who sold out to the Romans… like tax collectors…
Speaking of tax collectors, you may remember that Jesus’ disciple Matthew– at least before he met Jesus -- was a tax collector. Most people despised tax collectors both because they often collected extra fees to line their own pockets and because they were seen as Jews who were in league with the Romans.
So you see they were an untidy little group of followers. Really, the only thing that held them together was Jesus. And now he was going to leave them.
Jesus knew it would be hard for them and so… Jesus told them – no, he commanded them: Love one another. They were to love one another, not only for their own sake as a community of believers, but also as an example for the whole world. He commanded them to love one another so that others would be able to recognize them, not for their differences… not for their preaching… not for the quality of their teaching… but… for their love.
We live in a time that is becoming increasingly polarized – especially politically, but in other ways as well. The media that you watch and listen to influences how you think about issues and what interpretation – some call it “spin” – you give to an event. This is tearing apart our country. Even within families, people are starting to take sides. One of my aunts has outlawed in her home all conversation that is political in nature – and if Ethel says something – everyone listens.
But I wonder if silence is the best response. Certainly it is if the alternative is name-calling and demonizing. But I wonder if we can live into being the loving respect-filled community that Christ calls us to be. I wonder if we can show the world that we can speak respectfully together – even when we disagree – just because we take seriously Jesus’ command to love one another as he loves us.
The world needs our example. After all, where else is there a place in which people who differ from one another by age, by class, by gender, by race, by nationality and in so many other ways… can come together to share and be united by Christ’s body and blood?
We are doing that today. Where else can people be welcomed into your family just because God loves them? We are doing that today as we welcome Eli as a brother in Christ in God’s family.
Today, Jesus calls us, all of us, to LOVE ONE ANOTHER and to love ALL of our Brothers and Sisters in Christ as Jesus loves us – and to do it so that all the world will see and will know that we are Christians by our love. And I believe that we won’t do it perfectly and that we will need to forgive one another – a lot– when we hurt one another. Still… Jesus still calls us to love one another... and we get to start again, each day, to do just that. A poet said it this way:
"Life is short. We do not have much time,
to gladden the hearts of those who journey the way with us.
Be swift to love & make haste to be kind."
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
By Brigit Katz Smithsonian.com
2by Henri Frédéric Amiel, Swiss moral philosopher, poet, and critic.