St. Augustine of Hippo


Episcopal Church

 


“Which Commandments Is John Talking About?”


(John 14:15—21)


May 17, 2020


The Reverend Nathanael Saint-Pierre



I really like when the lectionary suggests a text that does not necessarily offer much to go on, at least at first sight. But I also like it when this apparent limitation, or lack thereof, pushes me to dig deeper and find something John is trying to say but that is wrapped in the mystery for which he is known.

Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Those are words Jesus delivered to his disciples to say farewell. Jesus was about to be betrayed, arrested, then condemned and crucified and He is trying to tell his close friends not to be hopeless. He is telling them that the new Paraclete is coming and will reveal all things. That it needs to be darker before light is born. “If you love me you will keep my commandments”

What Commandments is Jesus talking about or referring to?

Unlike the Gospel according to Matthew – with a clear desire to have Jesus looking like the new Moses providing new commandments – nowhere in the Gospel of John does Jesus command us to go the second mile, turn the other cheek, render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's. Famously, Jesus gives only a single commandment in John and it occurs in the 13th chapter: "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." (John 13:34-35). He reiterates this in the 15th chapter: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends (John 15:12-13). We see, then, the overwhelming, repetitive, circular emphasis on love.

Love is a phenomenal sentiment and being in Jesus’ inner circle is to accept that the way of love is (according to John) the new commandment that Jesus is leaving with us. We cannot come to believe without falling in love or let me phrase this differently, without the new Paraclete (the Holy Spirit) to plant in our hearts the desire to faithfully follow Jesus in the challenging and dangerous adventure of falling in love with one another.

Falling in love is not winning; it is falling. It is to be knocked out by a force difficult to understand. It is to abandon our selves for the Spirit to use and be a gift for others. It is, in fact, to lose control. That is why divine love is so different from human love. Human love seems to seek for personal satisfaction, gratification, and gain. Human love seems to be reciprocal; we want to get as much as we give. We do not always want to give until we see or match what we will get. We, humans, prefer to receive and sometimes, just when it is convenient, give, because we do not want to lose. We seek the benefits of love but are not always willing to incur the losses. Our love is transactional. Divine love does not care being one way. Divine love equips us to suffer for doing what is right and still feel blessed. “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.”

It is not surprising that John was called “the Beloved disciple.” He experienced Jesus' love firsthand. And because of that experience, John was able to reciprocate Jesus' love. He became so immersed in the Shepherd's love for his flock, that the mutual love between John and the master earned him that nickname. I must remind you that he was the one, and the only one, at the cross with Jesus’ mother. He was also the one Jesus could trust with his mother. He was willing to risk being arrested at the cross instead of being safely in hiding.

O, how often do we proclaim we love Jesus but what do we do when we are tested? When we have to risk our lives to demonstrate that we love one another? See, Jesus is not even asking us to love him back. The new commandment is to love one another the way Jesus loved his disciples.

To be Christian is to open our hearts for the Holy Spirit to plant love for one another. Jesus did not give us a book of regulations with things forbidden or things allowed. Jesus did not give us the Book of Leviticus. He left one new Commandment - that we love one another the way he loved us.

The way Jesus loves us is not an investment, the kind of love that expects something in return and disappears when betrayed. Jesus’ love is instead a love that advocates for us so that God can forgive us repeatedly. The way Jesus expects us to love is for love to be never too much but never enough. Jesus is not asking us to speak about love. Jesus is demanding that we demonstrate love. This is the place where it becomes challenging. To demonstrate love is to accept to welcome the stranger. It is to feed the hungry, it is to look at the poor, the crippled, and the needy without disgust and rejection. Jesus loved his disciples and loves us despite our imperfections. If what we are in love with is perfection then it is not love. Jesus is demanding that we leave our comfort zone to love our enemies and those who persecute us.

Love is the way and the only way for us to survive this time of isolation and confinement. If Covid-19 must teach us a lesson it is that it makes us feel how much we need one another to survive. Even our isolation becomes a means for mutual survival. We don’t stay away from one another because we want to save ourselves and outlive the other. We do it so that one another can mutually be protected. Just realize in what a better place we would be if we were living in the way of love without waiting for a pandemic to force us to live with mutual love in our heart. Surely the world will be transformed if we embrace Jesus and walk together in the way of love as the new commandment. Amen!