“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” John 13:34 (NRSV)
You know, Jesus, you give some pretty challenging commandments! I mean, really, how can any of us love others as you love us? You have the inside track, the total connection as God incarnate. It seems like you are asking a lot! What about those people we just CAN’T seem to love? Lighten up!
I suspect that some folks have given up on Christianity because it was just too hard. Oh, I’ve heard all the excuses: “I’m spiritual, but I just don’t know about the ‘Jesus’ thing.” “I believe in God, but I don’t think I need to go to church to prove it; after all, the church is full of hypocrites.” “I was hurt by someone in the church, so I stay away.” The list could go on and on. Of course, to be a Christian one doesn’t have to go to church. But they miss out on one of the strongest teachings of Christianity: community or fellowship. Christianity is a religion of relationships, relationship with God first, then others as well as ourselves.
Jesus’ presence on earth brought the teachings and values of God to us in the flesh. We learn from Jesus about living the way God wants us to live. Contrary to some who interpret the scriptures (especially the Old Testament) to say that God punished as well as retaliated, Jesus teaches us that God is a God of love who wants what is best for us. We hear a lot about God as a heavenly Parent from Jesus. To understand God’s love for us, it’s helpful to think of our children or someone very dear to us and how our love for them affects our behaviors, decisions, and reactions.
To love as Jesus loves is similar to the love of parent for child or child for parent. Jesus loved us enough to lay down his life for us. Loving parents will lay down their lives for their children. Who else would we be willing to lay down our lives for? A friend? Spouse? Other family member? Someone in our church? Maybe we can’t really answer that question unless we are put into that situation.
What about our enemies. Jesus has also instructed us to love our enemies. It’s helpful to remember that the word agape is the Greek word translated “love” in most of the New Testament. This is a love that seeks the well-being of another, that wishes good things, shows respect, gives value to another person. Maybe we have someone who is a real thorn in our side, and maybe there is just no way we can “love” or like that person. However, we CAN show respect and kindness even in the face of nasty remarks, bullying, or other mis-behaviors.
Actually, kindness in the face of mistreatment often disarms the other person. I once worked with someone who was very difficult, and after avoiding the person as much as possible, I finally decided to take a different approach. After observing the person for a while, I learned what this person’s gifts and talents were and began complimenting the person on them. A month or so later, we were communicating much better. We never really were comfortable with each other, but at least we were able to be open to the other person’s gifts and talents and keep moving forward in our work.
The art of love isn’t just about eros, the type of passionate love that’s twittering and stars in our eyes; rather, the art of love is learning to love God with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength, and then to let God love others through us, even as we love ourselves. It’s hard work, but it’s what helps us to grow in grace and be the hands and feet of Christ here on earth. Thanks be to God!