If you’ve been following this series, then you may be starting to see a cyclical pattern emerge from the text. This is how Jewish thought and oral tradition worked. Unlike the modern Western, linear, stair-step approach of adding layers until one arrives at a punchline, the Jewish mind circled around the punchline, repeating the key thought and using new frameworks and stories to support it.
To that end, we are now returning to the theme of loving one another as the primary commandment of Jesus to his disciples. Another key theme is that of the disciples inclusion into the dynamic and powerful relationship shared between Jesus and the Father by way of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is now passing the torch onto his followers, essentially saying: “I’m leaving but I’ll still be here in a spiritual form. Now all of you can live as I have lived, and you will do so from the same spiritual force and relationship that I shared with the Father.”
“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.” (John 15:12-15)
Just as we saw through the foot washing example in part 1, Jesus continues to serve as a role model for how he wants his disciples to live, and that is possible only by starting from the same headwaters of loving and serving others. More than once Jesus gives his disciples a conditional statement of “IF” you do this…, then I’ll do this… Obeying his commands is the necessary precondition for experiencing the divine flow of life and power, and the command is always to “Love others as I have loved you.” Of course, anyone who sincerely tries this quickly discovers how hard this is.
I want to add a side note to this. In Jesus ministry, the religious minded often asked him about why he didn’t obey all the religious rules, why he broke the commandments, and what he thought the greatest commandment would be. In each case, Jesus appealed to the Law of Love as the single greatest law to obey. In other words, to love others means to love them as we love ourselves. Which means to give others grace and understanding for their sins and failings just as we do for ourselves. When we do wrong, we see our sin within the larger context of our lives and so we must endeavor to do the same with others. In fact the very experience of love is the loss of “otherness“, it is to see oneself within all others and give them grace and show them mercy as we would like done to us.
From this vantage point, it is clear that if we truly understand the law of love and apply it, then we will fulfill the heart of all moral law. If we fail to love, then obeying all other moral laws does us no good. If we miss love, we miss it all. Thus Jesus’ kingdom principal is that of love and keeping one law, rather than institutional powers which burden people and police them on many laws and rules. Love and freedom coexist in divine flow and in human relationships.
Back to the story line, Jesus is about to demonstrate just how far this love will go. No greater love exists than to lay down ones life for another. In life, we see many people who sacrifice their lives for the sake of others. This is honored and treasured by all people. This level of love and devotion to mission is recognizable to all people. Jesus was about to be taken, tortured, beaten, and crucified by institutional power (Church and State) because his message of love was so subversive to the power plays, threat, and control offered by government and religion. Loving others so much that you would rather be killed than settle for something less than love, is the pinnacle of this ethos, and it is the pinnacle of this last message to his disciples. Jesus knows that as they go out in the world, the same institutional powers will also oppress and even kill some of them. It is the same today.
The last nugget is the repetition of the theme whereby the disciples are included into the dynamic flow and power of Jesus’ relationship with the Father. Jesus reaffirms for them them that there is no cast system, no hierarchy, and no intermediary of religion, ritual, or rites between themselves and God. By making his disciples his “friends” (philos). The Greeks had several words for love and philia (affectionate love, involving friendship) shares a similar root and meaning. Jesus is calling them, or renaming them “Beloved”.
This calling them (and by inclusion all of us) the Beloved, is for the sake of the disciples. This word “lego” (calling, speaking, implying, naming) them Beloved or Friends is precisely how they will become free of over-identifying with the world systems (kosmos) and re-establish their true ontological center (identity, true self) found in God. By extraction, as we place our faith in Christ by obeying his command, or by loving others, we are renamed the beloved. By loving others and laying down our lives for others, by serving and washing the feet of others, we discover our true name as the Beloved, the friend of God.
One final nuance on this which is really important. This renaming is not restricted to a tribal religion, but the act of love itself. We must remove ourselves from the tribal belief that only a Christian, a Jew, or a devoutly religious or affiliated person is capable of this love. This opens up the Beloved of God to all people as we view this on the continuum of reality. We don’t all understand love in the same way, but to the whatever degree we do, to that same degree we come to understand our true self as the Beloved or Friend of God. This ontological center reshapes everything in life and transforms our priorities accordingly and it does so for all people, in all times, in all places, and from every walk of life. The deeper anyone goes into love, the deeper they discover the beloved Christ behind it all, connecting us to the Love of God, as the very love of God.
Clearly Jesus isn’t starting a new competitive religion. Instead Jesus is freeing all people from their religions of institutions unto a graced and liberated experience of loving self and others and being loved by God. This is far to easy for religion. It would say the bar is far too low and therefore the religious mind, (the meritocracy of goodness, the pharisee, the older brother, those named by something other than love), will always reject this message. For the religious mind, the gospel is to easy and they will create obstacles to entry. But Jesus doesn’t do this. His invitation has gone out to all who will come.
We all know something of love. That cannot be ignored. We must therefore endeavor to ask what love requires of us. The best strategy I’ve heard on this is to live moment to moment asking ourselves: “What is the most loving thing I can do right now?” May we do this, until loving becomes the default mode of everything we do, and the world is transformed by love’s power.