Love, v. 3.0
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Whether we're Christian or not, we've all been taught the Golden Rule: "do unto others as you would have others do to you". Jesus said it, in a positive restatement of something in the Jewish oral tradition. Something like it is found in many religions and philosophies, and the approaches to life of many agnostics and atheists. It makes life's decisions a lot clearer by putting you in your own harm's way. Think like that, and you won't be so eager to do in your main rival at work or to stomp on someone to get what you want. We might pull up short if we felt in our own back the knife that we just started to twist into someone else's. This is a good place to start : there actually is something for us to measure up to. Yet there are some things missing in the Golden Rule. There is, of course, the sado-masochist twist -- someone doing unto others the torture he so craves from them. A more important problem, though, is that the Golden Rule keeps you in the center of it. No matter how many lessons you learn from doing unto others, they're still your lessons, and it all still depends on your human capacity to love. That capacity is more like a dinner plate than a deep well, far too shallow when compared with the task at hand of living a different, loving kind of life.
Jesus takes us beyond the Golden Rule. The first step past it is when Jesus commends Deuteronomy 6:5's Great Commandment about loving God, and the second command that's like unto it, originally from Leviticus (you know, the book all Bible students love to avoid reading), to "love your neighbor as yourself". Jesus then looks at this not through one's own love and one's own viewpoint, but through what is meant by 'neighbor'. Jesus calls on us to be a neighbor, moving the focus from ourselves to others, especially another who is in need.
But one more step is needed. For while this approach redirects our capacity to love, it is still our human capacity to love that is being given out. In John's Gospel, Jesus makes the final step to setting this right, by giving a "new commandment": "that you love one another, just as I have loved you". This isn't a plea, but a final charge to the believing few -- a command (Latin mandatum, Middle English maundy). There is a new measure: to love as Jesus loved. Right after He said that, He went on His way to setting a standard of love beyond our wildest imaginings : to the cross and the tomb. And there's also a new power to love in a manner like that: He emptied that tomb, and went back to what is beyond, sending the Holy Spirit to us in His place. What the Spirit puts into us is Christ's love. That's the bottomless well of boundless love. No longer do we have to dish out our own love in saucer portions, we can now drench everybody with love from beyond ourselves, so it seeps in. We can now dare to live the life of holy love, trusting that in the end there is no loss where that kind of love is found.
Father, you told us to love. But we are weak. We do not love as Jesus did, or anything like it. Send us your Spirit to change us and to make us love like the Crucified and Risen One, that we may carry out your mandate to love. Amen.
A Maundy Thursday challenge: I'm not going to dump a load of guilt on you by telling you that you haven't loved like this. You've heard it over and over again, you know it's so, it's become one of those 'wish-you-coulds'. So, try something much simpler as a starter - think of one person in your life, and then write down some new ways you can be more loving to that person. Then do it; you'll learn how in the doing. After that, you can start working on doing the same thing for other people. But at least you'll have begun.
For more on the traditional practice of footwashing on Maundy Thursday, from the point of view of a Catholic/Anglican/Lutheran worship tradition, check this, by liturgical specialist Frank Senn.