May 8, 2022 ~ Fourth Sunday of Easter ~ Rev. Beckie Sweet
It was the summer of 1998, 24 years ago. We were camping at our farm on vacation…no easy task with 4 year old Paul (the wanderer), 2 year old Marthalyn (who decided to start potty training that week), and infant Daniel. Paul, being the oldest, took seriously his role of breaking me in as a parent, as he always had much to teach me. I tended to exert my rightful place of parental authority in true Yogi Bear fashion with lines like: “You can’t run away from me. I’m faster than the average Mama!” or “You can’t fool me. I’m smarter than the average Mama!” You get the idea. I wanted Paul to be sure he knew he was up against a better-than-average Mama!
Even if I cannot remember why, I clearly remember the scene on that sunny day in front of the clothes line filled with cloth diapers. Paul and I were engaged in a battle of wills. I was insisting that he do something he definitely did not want to do. I was frustrated. Paul was mad. I was just about to pull out the “time-out chair” card when Paul hurled the most vile insult his 4 year old mind could think of. With his hands planted firmly in his hips, he yelled, “You…you…you… average Mama!” Happily, all of our anger and frustration melted away as we laughed together at such a silly moment! That phrase has diffused family anxiety ever since that day. And even yesterday, as I asked Paul’s permission to share that story, we once again giggled at that tension-breaking moment, from which we have gained relational insights over the years. That story of tension diffused by humor is told in our family over and over again.
When we hear this week’s gospel text from John 13, it seems that we are hitting the rewind button as we journey through Eastertide. You may remember hearing this passage on Maundy Thursday, as we remembered Jesus final meal with the disciples in the Upper Room. And we have heard this passage year after year, a couple of times each year ever since. I wonder if that’s what the disciples did during those first weeks following the resurrection. I wonder if they if they sat around remembering the stories, what Jesus said, how the events prior to the crucifixion played out just as he had predicted. By telling the stories over and over, they were cementing in their collective memory the gospel that they were expected to live, model, and preach throughout the world.
According to John, as the disciples gathered for this meal, Jesus had humbly washed the feet of each disciple, demonstrating the kind of servanthood Jesus wanted the disciples to show each other. After this, Jesus returns to his place at the table and announces that one of the twelve will betray him. Judas makes a hasty exit and then Jesus continues to teach as we heard this morning. Jesus concludes, with a new commandment: “Love one another the way I have loved you. This is how all will know that you are my disciples: that you truly love one another.”
But this new commandment is not entirely new. Leviticus 19:18 says, “You shall not take vengeance nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” What is new then about Jesus’ commandment? Jesus provides a clear model of the love that he requires: “love one another the way that I have loved you.” This same teaching is reiterated two other times in John’s gospel. What else is new? On the one hand, loving one another as Jesus has loved encompasses the mundane; it means serving one another, even in the most menial tasks. One the other hand, this love encompasses heroic acts of great risk; it extends even to the point of giving one’s life for another. The love of which Jesus speaks, then, and which Jesus demonstrates in his life and death, is a love which extends from the mundane to the heroic and encompasses every kind of self-giving act in between. Jesus tells his disciples that it is by this kind of love that everyone will know that they are his disciples.
Here in chapter 13, Jesus demonstrates his love for the same disciples who will fail him miserably. Jesus washes and feeds Judas who will betray him, Peter who will deny him, and all the rest who will fail to stand by him in his hour of greatest distress. The love that Jesus demonstrates is certainly not based on the merit of the recipients, and Jesus commands his disciples to love others in the same way.
We disciples of Jesus have continually fallen far short in our love for one another as well as in our love for those outside the community of faith. As with the disciples, our theological and ethical arguments often descend into personal attacks and name-calling; personal interest often overshadows the common good of the community; those in need of compassion find judgment instead.
Jesus could not be more clear: it is not by our theological correctness, not by our moral purity, not by our impressive knowledge that everyone will know that we are his disciples. It is quite simply by our loving acts – acts of service and sacrifice, acts that point to the love of God for the world made known in Jesus Christ. Those are the stories we need to be sharing with one another over and over again.
Our reflection in the bulletin asks us to consider “Who are those who taught you to have a loving faith? And just how did they teach you? Now consider, to whom are you imparting these lessons of life and faith?” Jesus says: Love. Each. Other. Amen.