The hard part

Reflection for 5th Sunday of Easter

John 13:31-35

Loving Jesus is the easy part. Loving each other: that’s the hard part. That’s because Jesus doesn’t cut us off on I-95 or beat us into the last parking space. Jesus doesn’t lose the remote or snore. He doesn’t borrow money and never pay it back. He doesn’t have bad breath and really, really need a bath. He’s not addicted. He’s not handicapped. He’s not an eyesore sleeping at the train station. He’s not drooling or incontinent. In short, Jesus doesn’t annoy us; he doesn’t repulse us. He doesn’t intrude on our sense of propriety.

No matter how hard we try to make Jesus a living presence in our lives, he still dwells largely in the realm of the spirit. No matter how firm our faith, he remains to some extent a tabula rasa… a blank, ephemeral canvas for our hopes and dreams. Those canvases that have been filled in by masters over the years all radiate glory. The Jesus we meet in song and scripture, in literature and liturgy is a paradigm of love and beauty. So what’s not to love? He doesn’t litter the landscape of our lives with habits we hate and sights and smells we despise. In contrast to the image of a loving, loveable Jesus, reality rears its ugly head in the form of people we struggle to tolerate, much less love.

But toleration is not an option. Jesus commands us this week: I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you…” With Jesus, “love” is always the operative word. He doesn’t specify that we love only the sweet smelling and considerate, the virtuous and attractive, the sound of mind and body. Neither is his commandment restricted to the disciples or just the Chosen People. Jesus commands us to love all of God’s children, just as he loves us.

There’s no wiggle room here. This is not a suggestion or a helpful hint. It is Christ’s commandment. And nobody said it was going to be easy. Some people are harder to love than others. Start with those labeled as life’s losers: the drunks, the addicts, the hookers and the crazies. Jesus knows and loves every one of them. He took their sins to the cross, right along with our pride and contempt for these, our discarded, de-humanized brothers and sisters. It is humbling to consider what pained Christ the most, their sins or ours?

Just as Jesus offers us no choice but to love, he clearly shows us the way to love. To follow his commandment, we have to practice loving the way that he loves. First, give any discomfort or reticence you have to the Father. Then, no matter how dim or obscure, respect the divine spark in everyone you meet. Try very hard to look past your prejudices and society’s degrading labels. Try understanding that pathology and pain produce obnoxious, off-putting behaviors. And don’t be put off by them. Keep searching til you recognize the image of God that resides in all of us. Work at it. Pray for it. And always be kind; be respectful; be helpful; be forgiving. Remember every one of us is a beloved child of God, here for one reason. And that reason is to preserve and project his love, so that: By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

Our charge is simple: Witness Christ’s love in the world, as if he had left only yesterday and will be returning tomorrow. Til then, his love is in our care. We must live it and share it. Seen through his eyes, the hard part of love gets a lot easier. Alleluia!

Committed to a vocation that focuses on encountering God in the midst of everyday life, the Rev. David Sellery serves as an Episcopal priest that seeks to proclaim the good news of God in Christ in worship, pastoral care, education, stewardship, and congregational growth.

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