Sounds simple enough. Jesus certainly gave enough examples for his disciples to follow. In fact, he spent his lifetime teaching the disciples how to love. Surely by now, we can figure out what this kind of love means.
I’m pretty sure that if you conducted a survey, most people, regardless of where they live, whether they follow a particular faith or not, very young or very old, no matter who they are, would probably agree on the ‘basics.’ If you are a loving person, you will probably be nice, help others when you can, don’t be a bully, respect others, treat others as you would like to be treated, and don’t be nasty. Yup…that about sums it up!
But this description, while generic and agreeable to most, completely ‘misses the boat’. I do not believe it does justice to what Jesus was trying to say to his disciples…or us.
So what do I believe about this Love that Jesus speaks of? I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I will never completely understand the depth of this love…not in a lifetime, nor a hundred lifetimes. And that’s okay. But if I had to put it into words, I believe this love that Jesus spoke about, has something to do with compassion. Jesus was about many things, but he did appear to be kind of particular about compassion.
Compassion is not about “being nice” all the time. Compassion can mean being angry at injustice, being unwilling to accept the way things are – ‘tossing tables in the temple.’ Being a people of compassion invites us to open our hearts to a new way of thinking. Beyond curing and healing, Jesus was all about standing with the sinner, the leper, the powerless; with those in need of knowing their own goodness; with you and with me. In teaching us about love, Jesus invites us to see things in a new way. Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest and founder of Homeboy Industries – one of the world’s largest and most successful gang intervention programs, describes it this way:
“…the measure of our compassion lies not in our service of those on the margins, but in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship with them, and mutuality.”
Compassion removes that sense of judgement; it challenges that crazy idea that somehow there exist some lives that matter less than others. Compassion, or God’s love, helps us to see what God sees when we look at another. I suspect that this love that Jesus speaks of in John’s gospel is, on the one hand, completely beyond anything we can comprehend. Loving the other, as God loves us. Kinship.
I think this is a love that wants to accept and welcome in, all that we are…and all that the other is. No part of our complicated and messy selves is put down or discarded. All our imperfections, and the mistakes in our past, are somehow, part and parcel of holy ground.
Here lies the most difficult part…
If only we could only learn to see some of that which is sacred in each other, to know ourselves and others as chosen and loved by God, then I think we might begin to touch a little of that holy truth – what Jesus meant by “Love one another as I have loved you.”