Being truly whole so that we are wholly free to love.

Easter 5 – 2015

John 13:31-35

Marian Free

 

In the name of God whose love is as strong as death, passion as fierce as the grave[1]. Amen.

She loves you

She loves you

I can remember, as clearly as if it were yesterday, the Christmas that I received my first ever record. It was the year that the Beatles had come to Brisbane and I was nine years old. Even though I didn’t listen to the radio and my parents did not own a TV I was caught up in the hype that surrounded their visit. One of my classmates had even taken the day off school to line the street to the airport and welcome them to the city. Another friend used to sing the song: “Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you”, the song with which a popular TV show of the day concluded. My nine-year-old self knew that she had to be a part of this phenomenon. So when I was asked what I would like for Christmas, there was no hesitation: “I would like a Beatles record.”

My mother and I went into the city to a record shop. In those days the counters were about four-foot tall so I had to stretch to see. “I’d like a Beatles record please,” said my mother. “Which one?” the assistant replied. Mum looked at me, I looked at her. I had no idea that there would be a choice. Helpfully I replied: “One with ‘Yeah, Yeah, Yeah’ on it.” So that is how I came to own this – an EP with ‘She loves you’ on one side and ‘I’ll get you’ on the other. I’d have to say that the lyrics of these and many of the early Beatles songs are not particularly edifying. ‘She loves you yeah, yeah, yeah, she loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah’, and, ‘Love, love me do, you know I love you, so please, love me do’ and yet another, ‘Love is you need, love is you need, love is all you need.’

Love was in the air in the 1960’s and 70’s. Flower children preached it, bumper stickers proclaimed it and popular music extolled it. The problem was that the atmosphere of the day made love sound all too attainable and all too easyms – the answer to all the world’s problems.  Love was not enough to stop the Vietnam war or to bring an end to apartheid and global poverty.

In today’s gospel Jesus enjoins his disciples to love one another in the context of his farewell speech. This includes instructions and warnings, the promise of the Holy Spirit and prayers for the disciples.  The tone for a future without Jesus is set right at the beginning: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

As I have loved you. If love was all that we needed, why do so many relationships end acrimoniously and why are so many families torn apart by disputes? The answer is that while there are good reasons for marriages to end – domestic violence being one – many people have a simple and idealistic notion of love.  Some expect love to fill deep needs of their own, others confuse love with control and its opposite subservience and there are those who expect that the simple fact of being love will ensure that their story will be happily ever after.

Jesus apparently has no such illusions, which is why he adds the rider: “Just as I have loved you.” As I have loved you. This is very different from the commandment that asks us to love our neighbours as ourselves. Jesus’ command forces us to consider his life and example and to model ourselves on him.  I quote: “Christ commands us to love as he did, putting neither reputation, nor wealth, not anything whatever before love of our brothers and sisters.” (Cyril of Alexandria)  In a culture in which honour meant everything, Jesus mixed with the disreputable and the outsider, chose poverty over wealth and acted as a servant to his disciples. Though he was divine, Jesus allowed himself to endure all the indignities of being human. In other words, Jesus’ love was a love that thought not of himself, but only of others.

The love that Jesus insists that we show to others is the sort of selfless love that enables us to give up all thoughts of our own needs and desires – for recognition, comfort, satisfaction and instead to ensure the well-being of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

What this entails in practice is being at peace with ourselves and God, being so sure of our place in the cosmos that we do not need to compete with others in order to feel good about ourselves, recognising that we do not need the world’s approval in order to know our own worth, that we do not need to measure ourselves and our worth according the standards of those around us, but  to only according to the standards that Jesus modelled and that Jesus encouraged. For some of us, this means first of all letting go of our own baggage, seeking wholeness and healing for the hurts we carry and the insecurities that drive our behaviour. In some instances it may mean that we take advantage of professional help to lay aside fear, resentment and anxiety or to let go of our sense of inadequacy because ultimately, we are only able to love selflessly from a position of confidence and strength, from a place in which we are completely free of restraint and in which don’t need others to affirm us so we are free to affirm them.

Only when we are absolutely confident in our own worth can we affirm the worth of others. Only when we are completely sure that we are loved and love

able can we selflessly offer love to others. Only when we are truly whole can we wholly give ourselves away.

“Love one another as I have loved you” – it makes the rest of the commandments look like a walk in the park. First of all we have to do everything in our power to accept Jesus’ love and then we have to do all that we can to give that love away.

 

 

[1] Song of Songs 8:6

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