Thursday 2 May 2024

Love is Bigger

“Love one another as I have loved you,” Jesus says in the Gospel of John.

That’s probably my most favourite verse in scripture. It is today, anyway. Sometimes I think the bible’s much to vast to only have one “favourite.”

Here’s the thing about that verse, though. It’s powerful in its own right. But its real power lies in how it connects us to life.

It’s way too easy to take a single line or verse out of context and say “it means this.” That meaning can very quickly become what we want it to mean and how it supports what we already think, rather than speaking for itself. That can easily disconnect us from the larger, deeper meaning of its context in the story.

But this verse connects us, first to what Jesus is saying about love in his final words to the disciples in John’s gospel. It connects us to the idea that we “abide” in the love of Jesus which is the love of God. We live in love. It’s not just something to do, a behaviour to copy or a life style to emulate. We are intimately connected in love, it is part of our being.

I also think that when Jesus talks like this, it’s like that moment earlier in John when Jesus says that he is “the way, the truth and the life.” I don’t think that he’s limiting the way to just Jesus, but rather using himself as a means to describe “the way.” The way isn’t just Jesus, Jesus lives the way. So, too, the love of Jesus and the love of God are love, however you know Jesus and God, by this name or tradition or another. The way is love.

It connects us, too, with the life of Jesus. The full life of Jesus, which is the living of love in the stories, the teaching, the preaching, the healing, the successes, the failings, the affirmations and the doubts. It’s everything. It remembers to us the wholeness of the life of Jesus.

That’s an important piece here, because I think we hear Jesus talk about love and we think he only means that one particular churchy kind of love that’s not brotherly love or romantic love or sexual love, it’s that “unconditional love of God” love. I think Jesus meant all love. How else can there be wholeness?

I think, also, that we talk about love that is compassion, grace, kindness, care, thoughtfulness, empathy - there’s a very long list before we get to justice, respect, equity and the willingness to risk to do all those things. That’s another connection here. Right after saying that we should love each other as he loves us, Jesus says that there is no greater love than to “lay down one’s life” for a friend. Sure, he could simply be foreshadowing his own death. But he uses this phrase elsewhere in John and I think it means something bigger. I wonder that Jesus means that love is risky and can be costly when love means standing up against injustice, calling for what’s right and true, fighting oppression, promoting equity and demanding respect.

Jesus was always found where love was most needed. It was sometimes risky, sometimes a struggle, sometimes refused and sometimes embraced. But it was always lived. That’s what it means to love as Jesus loves.