John 13:1-15, 34-35
April 9, 2020
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
There is a TV show called Shark Tank, where entrepreneurs get just a few minutes to pitch their idea to a group of rich investors. The investors may reject them or make an offer for a share of their company or profits. If the entrepreneur has a good idea, the investors will compete with each other with better and better offers to get a piece of the company. One of the investors, known for his shrewdness, is a rich Canadian businessman named Kevin O’Leary. When he presents an offer to one of the contestants and gets rejected, he says a dark humorous line, “You’re dead to me.” Whether O’Leary himself is so ruthless in real life, or whether this is just his television personality, I don’t know. Yet, this line does a good job of showing the ruthlessness of the business world. O’Leary is only interested in the contestant as long as he has something to gain from him, namely, money. Yet, the moment he loses the opportunity to gain money, the person he was previously courting is dead to him. He has no use for him. He might as well not exist.
This is ruthless, yet it is not limited to the world of business. This is how people behave everyday with their acquaintances, friends, and yes, even their family. They’ll be friendly and helpful to them, just so long as they have something to gain by it. Yet, once a person proves to be unprofitable as a friend or acquaintance, they’re cut off from further help and friendship. Very often, maybe not in words, but in deeds, people say to one another, “You’re dead to me.”
Not so with Jesus’ Christians. Jesus commands us to love one another and to do good to those who are incapable of paying us back! We must love not only in word, but in deed; helping those who cannot help themselves and cannot help us in return.
Yet, Christians quickly forget this. We help those we like. We are friendly toward those who make us feel good about ourselves. We forgive those who do us no wrong, but we hold grudges against those who bother us. We Christians need this reminder from Jesus. He commands us to love one another even as he loved his disciples; to do good to others as Jesus does good to us.
St. John writes in his first Epistle, “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” (1 John 3:15) This is an important reminder that true saving faith produces good fruit. We do not become Christians by loving our neighbor. We must not put the cart before the ox. Rather, love is the fruit of saving faith, as St. John also writes, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:10-11)
And here, God has given us a perfect opportunity to practice this love; to give evidence that we are actually Christians! Listen to the words of St. Paul from Philippians chapter 2, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each person look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Most of us are cooped up. There are very limited places we are able to go. And some of us can’t leave our homes at all. Kids are spending their days in the same house where parents are trying to get work done. Here is your opportunity to help! Kids, instead of using this extra time to play video games and mindlessly cruise the internet, help your parents out with household chores! Be considerate to your father or mother who must work from home by giving them peace and quiet. Husbands, consider the needs of your wives and wives, consider the needs of your husbands. Do acts of kindness to each other. Do not get irritated with one another, rather be quick to forgive and slow to anger. Consider those who are in need and find ways to help them!
When we express love toward one another, we should be careful that we do not mistake the world’s perverted version of love with the love Christ mandates to us. St. John warns again, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:15-17)
The world loves praise. The world loves pleasure. The world loves independence from God. That is not what love is. My father used to quote a poem from a Norwegian play called Brand, which articulates well what true love really means:
Of what the paltering world calls love,
I will not know, I cannot speak;
I know but His who reigns above,
And His is neither mild nor weak;
Hard even unto death is this,
And smiting with its awful kiss.
What was the answer of God’s love
Of old, when in the olive-grove
In anguish-sweat His own Son lay;
And prayed, O, take this cup away?
Did God take from Him then the cup?
No, child; His Son must drink it up! (Brand, By Henrik Ibsen. 75).
The love Jesus teaches us is the love that causes the Father to sacrifice his Son for our sins; the love that led Jesus to go as a lamb to slaughter without protest. When Jesus, their Lord and teacher, washed his disciples’ feet, he demonstrated that he did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. That is God’s love. And that is the love that Christians must imitate. A love that serves others, not a love that seeks pleasure.
I’ve said several times before that God is humbling us right now with this coronavirus pandemic. And it is good for us to be humbled, so that we can meet Christ in humiliation, so that we can be saved from this sinful world and enjoy the love of Christ forever. St. Peter at first refused to let Jesus wash his feet. At first, you might think that Peter was being humble. He didn’t want his Lord and Master to humble himself before him and wash his feet like a common servant. Yet, it wasn’t humility that caused Peter to protest, but pride. He didn’t want a master who served. He wanted a master who led. And he wanted to follow after a glorious leader. But Jesus will not meet us in our pride. He will not meet us exalted on our self-made pedestals. Jesus will only meet us in humility. “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”, Jesus says to Peter. Indeed, he says this to every one of us. Unless Jesus clears the muck accumulated by our wicked thoughts, words, and actions, we will remain unclean and unfit for heaven.
We must come before God as sinners in need of redemption; as persons soiled, who need to be clean. When we come to Christ in such humility, he cleans us and makes us whole. And only then are we equipped to share the love of Christ with others. Then we are not afraid to humble ourselves before father, mother, husband, wife, child, or neighbor locked in his house. We have no fear to humble ourselves, because we know with Christ, we can lose nothing.
By loving one another you show that you have received Christ’s love through faith. And by receiving Christ’s love, which he offers to you through the proclamation of the Gospel, through the eating and drinking of his body and blood, which he died in love to give you, and through the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren, whereby you confess Christ to one another in your homes, then God’s love overflows from you to one another.
The command to love is not a new command. It is the oldest command we have from God. Yet, it is a new command, because Christ has perfected it by dying for our sins and giving us all that we need for eternal life. This command is given anew to Jesus’ Christians, who are enabled by his love to love one another. Dear Christians, rejoice in the love of God which Christ has shown you. And may this love flow through you to those who need it. In Jesus name. Amen.