Loving like Jesus means loving together through betrayal and beyond. (Listen.)
“Love one another as I have loved you …”: Jesus says these familiar words at a critical moment. He has just washed the feet of each and every disciple. Now Judas has left the building. He’s heading to the authorities, to hand Jesus over to be tortured and killed.
Up until now, Jesus has been saying things like: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you … If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even traitorous thugs do that? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than anyone else? Don’t even the religious outsiders do the same?” (Matthew 5:44-47).
Now the rubber hits the road. For when Judas goes out to betray him, Jesus lets him. He doesn’t expose Judas’ plot; he doesn’t ask the other disciples to seize him; he doesn’t attack Judas; he doesn’t defend himself. Instead, with infinite sadness, he refuses to retaliate. For the one who preaches the power of forgiveness and enemy-love still loves Judas, and still prays for him, and has already forgiven him, and is already mourning his absence from the table.
This is the love which seeks out a crushed and guilt-ridden Peter, and forgives him again and again and again, and entrusts God’s flock to him. This is the love which would seek out Judas, had he not destroyed himself in guilt and despair. This is the love which seeks out me, and you, and everyone else who betrays him, which we do every time we withhold love from someone; every time we turn away from a person in need; every time we return hurt for hurt, hostility for hostility, betrayal for betrayal, rejection for rejection. This is the love which forgives seventy times seven times forever.
Impossibly, this is also the love which is to be poured out through us. Almost everyone in this world can love people like themselves, and people who already love them, and people who never wound them. “Even the religious outsiders do that!” But Jesus’ disciples are commanded to love those who offend us, or hurt us, or criticize and condemn us, or mock, deny and betray us: for that is how Jesus loves.
And because he really, really wants us to learn to love like this, Jesus gives us a training ground: each other. For there is not one faith community in the world which is free of hurts or wrongs or misunderstandings. This is why so many churches pass the peace every week, and it is why we will do so in just a few minutes.
If we treat each other as we deserve, if we treat each other as we have been treated ourselves, then we will know bitterness; we will know isolation; we will know cultural captivity; we will know despair.
But we are called to something different: to be the body of Christ, to be animated by Christ’s Spirit, to practise God’s kingdom-culture now. And this means refusing to retaliate; and praying for one another; and forgiving one another; and seeking healing and wholeness and restoration and connection with one another: for then we love in the way Jesus loves Peter and Judas and you and me.
When we love like this, we will know peace beyond our culture’s understanding: the liberating loving joyful peace of God, which builds relationship and brings healing. When our company at the table includes not just our friends but “the betrayer and the beloved, the wrong-doer and the wrongly done by,” then it is God’s own table: and the meal becomes “a foretaste of love made real, and of a world made whole.”
Love, be wounded, forgive, repeat: Through this painful healing continuing process, let us be known as Jesus’ disciples; let us become a foretaste of heaven; let us bear witness to a world made whole. Amen. Ω
A reflection on John 13:31-35 given to Sanctuary, 19 May 2019 © Alison Sampson, 2019. Quote from Cheryl Lawrie http://holdthisspace.org.au/. Image credit: Cerezo Barredo, mural En la Cena ecológica del Reino, found here.
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