As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
“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. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. This is the greatest love Jesus calls us to. I have never really had to make a decision like that. I know it happens. I hear stories. I see movies where that kind of love is upheld. And so I was wondering this week why I am not in those situations?
I think part of the answer is that we have changed our definition of love into a feeling rather than an action. We love strawberries and waffles and Lord of the Rings. But we will never be put in a situation where we might have to put our life on the line for those things. I wonder if this deeper love, this action oriented love is a directive being given into a specific situation. Jesus knows that in the coming days when he leaves that the disciples will be persecuted for healing the sick, for giving away their possessions, for challenging the empire, and for loving the unlovable. Jesus knows that he is putting his life on the line for love and that his disciples will too. They will be challenged because this love breaks down the hierarchical order and control of the time both then and now. It challenges any and all systems that keep people from living. It is a life giving love.
And living a life of love that puts your life on the line to protect and lift up and care and provide for others can seem remarkable and unattainable. But it leads me back to my previous question, why is that challenge not in my life? And perhaps, this may not be true for everyone, but perhaps it is because my love has been kept at a safe distance. I love those around me and those who act like me but have not ventured into a more difficult love. Perhaps the people who most need love in our world have been pushed to the margins of our society. And perhaps we are not challenged to put our life on the line because we have kept ourselves away from those margins. Perhaps we have been taught that love is simple and easy and doesn’t require deep solidarity and relationship with those on the margin…
Conversely, people who have been on the margins of society know the risk of love intimately.
In 1917, thiry-three women were arrested, beaten, clubbed, and tortured by police and guards because they were picketing the White House and demanding the right to vote. They were on the margins and demanding a fair chance to live and love but instead were met with violence.
In 1955, the Rev. George Lee was one of the first black people to be registered to vote in Humphreys County. Mississippi. He used his pulpit and his printing press to urge other people to register to vote. He was approached by white officials demanding that if he stopped he would be protected. Rev. Lee refused and was murdered. Rev. Lee stood up for the right to vote so that all people regardless of race could choose how they wanted to live and love but instead was met with violence.
In 2020, Gomez Gonzalez was advocating against logging in the El Rosario Reserve in Mexico because it was the site of the monarch butterfly’s natural habitat and was called a “superlative natural phenomenon.” Gonzalez disappeared in early 2020 and his body was later found murdered at the bottom of a pond. Gonzalez fought for the life of God’s creation in the face of capitalistic greed and was killed for it.
These are only a few of the many many stories where people stand up for what they believe is right and are met with violence. Love is not always like the hallmark movies. It is often faced with violence when it confronts greed or power or control. Love does not back down but insists that every person deserves to live a whole and healthy life. That is why Jesus and the disciples spent so much time healing. That is why the early church gave all its possessions so that no one would be in need. That is why the church is called the body of Christ so that it can go out and love recklessly, going to the margins of society and working for a better future. Love is not easy. Love is not a feeling. Love is an action. An action of solidarity and justice and comfort and grace. It is the best and most powerful force in the world.
How might we change our definitions of love to match Jesus call and to live lives with no greater love than this? Where are the people that it is dangerous to love? Why is that so and what is keeping us from truly and deeply loving them? Today may we truly live into the call of Jesus as the people of God. May it be so.