Summary: God’s Love for us is an active love. We are to actively love one another in reponse to His grace.
Anne and I are learning about love. It’s not that we don’t love each other, we really do. But we’re learning about a different kind of love. The kind of love Killian is teaching us. There is no doubt that we both have very deep feelings of love for our little boy and each other. But feelings aren’t enough. Learned more about that this week as Killian had a bad cold. He had trouble sleeping. And with his nose stuffed up, he had trouble keeping a pacifier in his mouth, and right now, no pacifier = no sleep. Which means that Anne and I were up it seemed every five or ten minutes putting that thing back in for him. I thought about taping it to his hand. Anne suggested we tape it to his face (just kidding).
We were good at first. One of us would pop right up and run in and save the day! But at about 4:30 in the morning, I heard him fuss and thought. What if I pretend I can’t hear him? Maybe Anne will get up. And then I thought, what if we’re both lying here awake pretending to sleep. Well no matter how tired I was, or Anne was, we took care of Killian. Sometimes sitting up with him for a few hours at a time so he could sleep upright (heaven forbid he sleep in his carseat!) so his sinuses could drain. It wasn’t easy, but we did it. Why? Because we love him. And for as much as love might be a feeling, feelings weren’t going to take care of him. Feelings wouldn’t hold him, or feed him, or change his diaper. Love had to be an action. A verb, not just a noun.
This is an important distinction isn’t it? That real love isn’t just the pitter patter of our hearts, but in the activity of our hands, and feet, and voices. If there were anything to summarize what God is trying to tell us through our Gospel lesson today, it would echo those thoughts. There is a pretty clear message for us:
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
In other words, God the Father is one with the Son and Loves the Son. God the Son is one with us and loves us. And therefore we are one with each other and are called to love one another. But love is further defined by action! That God actively loves us. And as those who are actively loved, we become partners in God’s mission to actively love others. Point that John makes so simply and beautifully:
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
It’s hard to miss the impact of these verses. It is a noble ideal to give up your life for the life of a friend. But these verses take on a little more significance when we read them in light of how the ancient world sometimes defined friendship. We get a hint of it later in John’s Gospel (19). Pontius Pilate is trying to proclaim Jesus’ innocence, but finally succumbs to the pressure from the crowd when they start chanting: “If you let this man go you are no friend of Caesar!” So we understand that as Governor of Jerusalem, Pontius Pilate was a friend of Tiberus Caesar. But what exactly did this mean? Did this mean that they were buddies? That when Pilate went to Rome, we would call the Emperor and say, “hey Tibby, it’s Pilate! I’m in town, let’s go get an olive and mutton pizza and catch up!” NO! Not at all! Pilate was a friend of Caesar’s inasmuch as he was appointed by Caesar to share in the mission of Rome in his part of the world. Caesar considered him a friend, but would never think they were equals.
If we understand “friendship” in these ancient terms, we can see how it can be a fitting way to describe how we are friends with God. He is all powerful, all knowing, our creator. So we understand that our friendship with Him is not a partnership of equals. But we can also better understand how stunning it is when Jesus says to the disciples, Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. Things aren’t supposed to work that way! The greater isn’t supposed to die for the lesser. Tiberus Caesar would never sacrifice himself or Pilate! So how is it that God would love us so much that he would lay down his life for us? It’s an incredible reversal!