“Love each other, as I have loved you”. This is Jesus’ command to his disciples in our reading from John’s gospel today. Jesus then repeats, “This is my command: love each other”. This is such a straightforward command, and yet, we as humans and as a church have so often complicated it by setting conditions on our love.
Who then are we meant to love? Our family, our friends, the other members of our church community? Well, yes, of course, but is there anyone else? That is for us to decide for ourselves, but perhaps I can set some things out.
Every time we have a communion service, the celebrant will say these words:
“Our Lord Jesus Christ said:
The first commandment is this:
‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is the only Lord.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, with all your mind,
and with all your strength.’
The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’
There is no other commandment greater than these.
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
First of all, Jesus states that all laws and prophecies must now be based on these two commandments to love God and to love our neighbour.
Secondly, when asked in Luke’s gospel, “who is my neighbour?”, Jesus responds with the parable of the Good Samaritan. In this parable it is the despised Samaritan who is the only one to show mercy to the injured traveller, a Jew, who the Samaritan would normally have been meant to despise in return. Those who passed the injured man by, were representatives of the church, men who should have been examples of mercy and grace.
In last week’s reading from Acts we read of the encounter between the Ethiopian eunuch and Philip. This encounter is God given and the Ethiopian is converted to Christianity. However, as a black man and with dubious sexuality, he would have been a very problematical figure for Philip, but Philip did not hesitate when he was commanded to speak with him and explain the good news of Jesus Christ.
In both of these examples, the parable of the Good Samaritan and Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch, we see people who would be considered ‘beyond the pale’, both demonstrating and receiving a loving response to need.
Who then is our neighbour who are we commanded to love? I leave that with you.
Then, how do we love? Well, let us return to our reading from John’s gospel for today:
“Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.”
So Jesus is telling us that if we keep his commands to love God and our neighbour as ourselves, we will remain in his love and in God’s love, and we will be following his example. We love by following the example of Jesus. In his life, again and again, Jesus loves those considered unlovable by others, and yet loved by God. Do we take him as our example, or do we keep within our safe and unchallenging boundaries?
This reading from John’s gospel is often used on Remembrance Sunday. We are not going to be asked to show our love by dying for others, but we are being asked to show our love for others by putting aside our own self-interest, prejudices and assumptions, just like the Good Samaritan and Philip.
Like them, we do not always get to choose who we are being asked to love. Only God does that.
Again, it is up to you how you respond.