Easter 6 / Year B
Jesus said to his disciples, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
First century Palestine was anything but a loving place to live. In fact, it was deeply divided in a number of different ways. If you know your bible then you know Galileans were looked down on by others, so there were regional divides. And there were ancestral divides. Jews and Samaritans lived in close contact, yet refused even to speak to one another. The religious establishment was divided into several different theological and liturgical camps and adherents of each group could barely tolerate adherents of others. The region was divided up and ruled by various kings appointed by Rome. These individuals neither liked nor trusted each other and they certainly did not like or trust the people under their rule. The Jewish response to Roman occupation ranged from capitulation to outright rebellion. Extremist zealots led something like a dozen different insurrections during Jesus’ lifetime alone.
These were huge divides because people were passionate about their positions – very passionate! Tension, volatility, and hostility filled the air. It might be an exaggeration to say everybody hated everybody, but without question everybody hated somebody. We bristle at how our own country in our own time has become divided and embittered, well, Palestine was like us on hyper-drive.
It is into this setting Jesus introduces his notion of the Kingdom of God. In his dream the poor are exalted, the suffering find comfort, and the peacemakers are blessed. It is a vision of a society not ruled by might or by the power of the purse. It is the pure in heart who are welcomed into God’s presence. In Jesus’ mind every person has value because every person is a child of God.
In a 2019 speech at Brigham Young University, the New York Times columnist David Brooks made this observation:
Somehow we have entered an age of bad generalizations. We don’t see each other well. Liberals believe that. Evangelicals believe that. Latter-day Saints believe that. All groups, all stereotypes, all bad generalizations—we do not see the heart and soul of each person, only a bunch of bad labels. To me, this is the core problem that our democratic character is faced with. Many of our society’s great problems flow from people not feeling seen and known: Blacks feeling that their daily experience is not understood by whites. Rural people not feeling seen by coastal elites. Depressed young people not feeling understood by anyone. People across the political divides getting angry with one another and feeling incomprehension.
Brooks suggests the thing we must get better at is “the trait of seeing each other deeply and being deeply seen.” It is the trait, he says, that lies at the center of every healthy relationship, family, classroom, community, and nation.
And I think it is what Jesus invites his disciples to experience. When he commands his followers to love one another as he has loved them, Jesus is not suggesting they merely grit their teeth, bite their tongue, and hold their peace every time another person pushes them to the limit (and you can be sure the disciples had a way of pushing each other’s buttons). Jesus invites them to do exactly what he did: look past what is on the surface in order to see what is deep inside. When he looked deep into the eyes of broken prostitute or a greedy tax-collector or a bedeviled demonic (to name a few) he saw a person fully known and fully loved by God. Can Jesus’ followers see as he sees and then translate what they see into action – the action of love?
I suspect no one here has heard of Fr. Peter Scholtes, but chances are good if you attended a youth group in the 60’s or 70’s and someone had a guitar, you know a song he wrote:
We are one in the Spirit
We are one in the Lord
And we pray that all unity
May one day be restored…
We will walk with each other
We will walk hand in hand
And together we’ll spread the news
That God is in our land…
We will work with each other
We will work side by side
And we’ll guard each man’s dignity
And save each man’s pride…
…And they’ll know we are Christians
By our love, by our love
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians
By our love
Why is it important to Jesus his disciples love one another? Because he knows no one is going to believe what he teaches if they can’t see it lived out in the flesh. And when it is lived out, there is nothing on earth capable of outshining it. This morning it is into this purpose and power we initiate Bellamy Johns through the sacrament of Baptism. And it is to this purpose and power we recommit ourselves today through the act of renewing our own Baptismal Covenant.
Surely you are aware of trends in church membership and how the fastest growing group in our society is the ‘nones’ – those who do not associate with any particular religious tradition or expression of faith. It is not that they have found something they like better, they have just stopped looking. And over time the outcome of this disconnection is not going to be pretty. Already we sense its toll as we see loneliness, anger, and anxiety increase. We are welcoming Bellamy into the Christian faith and life at a moment in time when the world needs people capable of knowing and being known deeply. We are welcoming her at a time when desperate people need to see Jesus’ dream realized in community. The world needs to see the breathtaking beauty and transformative power of Jesus’ vision. It needs to know we are Christians by our love.