John 15: 12-17: "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.
"...my commandment, that you love one another...”. For those who first heard this, it must have seemed a difficult activity. The disciples of Jesus struggled to overcome their jealousy of one another (Mark 10:35-45), and their anger at other groups that followed Jesus (Luke 9:49). Now they are commanded to replace their urge to compete with a decision to co-operate.
The Gospel of John records this commandment of Jesus one hundred years after Jesus was born – at a time when new followers of Jesus also found it very hard to love one another. This was a time of many different Jesus-following groups, who each claimed to have the “right version” of Jesus’ teaching. In time the Donatists, the Marcionites, the Donatists, the Gnostics and the Hellenists would clash with each other as they struggled to define the core doctrines of Christianity. Often the intention of commandment ‘to love one another’ was lost in the competition for religious power.
This command has continued to haunt the followers of Jesus through the past two thousand years, as each succeeding generation of Christ-following groups have wanted to hold the moral high ground on spiritual truth. Today we see the clash of groups under the banners of liberal and conservative, fundamentalist and post-modernist, traditional and emerging church, and each time the commandment of Jesus to ‘love one another’ challenges us anew.
A New Year’s resolution: to practice the love of Jesus with unconditional regard for the group that person represents. I shall join with religious fundamentalists, atheists, and those who believe anything in-between, and seek to love each with equal passion. I shall show the same loving acceptance of those who are bewildered by the truth and of those who claim to have monopoly on all truth. But be warned – loving someone does not mean that I will be tolerant of behaviour that is the opposite of love: injustice, oppression and abuse will be opposed. To this end I shall join hands with anyone who seeks to lay down their lives in the cause of love – for all love comes from, and leads to God.
May God bless us with love for the New Year.
the Week of New Year’s Day
6. Chosen to be God’s children
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 46.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day.