Fifth Sunday of Easter
Year C, RCL
May 19, 2019
North Fork Ministries
At the last supper, when Judas had gone out, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, 'Where I am going, you cannot come.' I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
The occasion was what we now know as “The Last Supper.” Jesus had risen from the table in the middle of the meal and, to the consternation of Peter, washed the feet of his disciples. Troubled in spirit, Jesus made it known to them that one among the twelve would betray him. Jesus tells the disciples that he won’t be with them much longer. And so their anxiety and expectations were elevated when Jesus told them that he was to give them a new commandment. They must have been perplexed when they heard what the new commandment was, “that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
I’m surprised that they didn’t ask, “Jesus, what’s so new about that? We’ve studied the law, we know the words of the prophets, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” For faithful Jews, loving others wasn’t a new commandment.
The instruction that Jesus was offering his disciples is best understood in the context of Jesus’ announcement that he would soon leave them. Though it was not yet clear to the disciples, his love for them wasn’t merely an emotion, his love for his disciples would eventually lead Jesus to the cross, and to the ultimate sacrifice. Love, as the disciples knew it described in Leviticus, wasn’t just about feelings either, love for the Israelites involved reaching out to another, befriending. Jesus’ willingness to give up his own life, simply raised the bar a notch higher.
Some of you will know the comedian, Lewis C. K. I understand that he has a home on Shelter Island. He is irreverent, sometimes offensive, often very funny and occasionally reveals hard truths about himself and us. In one of his routines he describes how, now that he is a rather successful comedian, he is able to travel first class when he flies from one engagement to another. He describes how a few years ago, soldiers, young men and women, wearing combat boots and camouflaged uniforms on their way to fight in Iraq or Afghanistan, would file past him sitting in his comfortable seat, and make their way to back of the plane to their place in coach.
Lewis C. K. says, “Every time I see a soldier on a plane, I always think: ‘You know what? I should give him my seat. It would be the right thing to do, it would be easy to do, and it would mean a lot to him…I should trade with him.’ … I never have, let me make that clear. I’ve never done it once. I’ve had sooo many opportunities. I never even really seriously came close. And here’s the worst part: I still just enjoy the fantasy. I was actually proud of myself…for having thought of it! I was proud! ‘Oh, I am such a sweet man. That is so nice of me! To think of doing that, and then totally never do it.”
Without acting on his impulse to offer his seat to the soldier, whatever feelings of compassion, respect, duty, or even love, that Lewis C.K. felt toward the young man, amounted to nothing. Without action, the emotion had no meaning.
This summer I will marry a young couple. Clear-eyed, a bright future in front of them, they will stand at the altar and profess their love for each other. The groom will say, “In the Name of God, I, take you, to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.” And the bride will repeat the vows. And they will say the words with great sincerity and with tremendous feelings of love for each other. They will fervently believe what they promise.
But you know, especially if you have been married for a while, that those words don’t mean much until they have been tested. Until things have gone from better to worse, until the couple has gone from richer to poorer, until they have passed from health into sickness, the true nature of their love remains to be seen. Love’s truth is revealed in actions, not words.
Jesus called, The Love Command, this directive to his disciples to love one another, a new commandment. Which raises the question, “Can love be brought into being by a commandment?” Growing up I didn’t even like my little