John 15:9-17 (NRSV)
As The Father Has Loved Me ...
9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 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. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 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. 16 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. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
I have loved you even as the Father has loved me
This is a big statement. To be honest, I’m not sure I would choose to be loved the way Jesus was loved by God.... a controversial birth, a difficult and demanding life, tasked with an unpopular message of radical love and a questioning of religious authority, asked to perform bizarre and unbelievable acts, and ultimately led to a humiliating and incredibly painful death..... it doesn’t sound like the kind of love I’d like to be lavished with. But... (did you see a “but” coming?) throughout the painful, confusing and unique years Jesus spent on earth, he never doubted his connection with God. He did question God in his moments of pain, which is important to note although not the focus of this week’s reflection. Jesus had Holy Spirit-level peace everyday of his life. And that’s the crux of God’s love. Despite all that is going on around you, despite the seeming impossibility of your task, or even of another day, when all is falling apart around you, God offers a love and a peace that are as simple and profound as anything can be. And that is how Jesus loves us. He invites us to believe that grace and love and joy and peace have been there the whole time, waiting for you to step in.
To remain in this level of love/joy/peace, we are told to do one thing: love one another. It’s so simple! But so complicated.
Is it possible to love others fully and unconditionally without understanding the love of God? I dare you to try. I bet you a fiver you’ll fail. When I say “others” I don’t mean friends and family, or just those who look like you, sound like you, and have the same political leanings as you. I mean the other who is as “other” from you as possible. The conservative to your liberal, the vegan to your meat-loving, the gay to your straight, the intellectual to your sporty, the spiritual to your atheist.... and vice versa, on all counts. And any other category you can think of. We say things like “I just can’t align myself with someone who...” or “I don’t hate anyone, I just can’t be in the same room as...”
But what would it look like if we were to love the way that Jesus loved? This love had no conditions, no preferences. It didn’t care what you had done in the past or how you were living. It was a love that would lead to a changed heart and mind, but that wasn’t a condition of the love. If we believe that Jesus died for everyone, and not just those of us who feel they have the answers and are on the right side of the God/Atheism spectrum, then we can’t shirk the responsibility of loving each person who comes into our path with this radical love.
The narrative of “we’re wretched sinners and God had to die in order for us to have a relationship with him” has always made me uncomfortable. If I were to die for a friend, it would not be because it falls on my shoulders to take a bullet so they can finally get their act together. It wouldn’t come from an exasperated despair, where my poor friend can’t do anything right. No, if I were to take a bullet for someone, it would be because of a pure and overwhelming love.
I wish I could love strangers with this level of love. I wish I could love people whose views I hate with this level of love. I wish I could even love friends and family with this level of love. Alas, I will settle for believing that God loves me ridiculously, and I’ll go from there, trying my best to love as Jesus loves.
Katie is an aspiring writer, an eternal intern, and a passionate Jesus-Feminist. With a Master’s in International Development and a Bachelors in Sociology and French, she is qualified for ... making lattes and pulling pints (skills that she has put to great use). Currently in New York on a Graduate visa, and having lived in Edinburgh for two years.