Greater Love

A homily, based on John 13.21-32, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on Wednesday in Holy Week, March 28, 2018

Jesus, troubled, terribly, knows he will be betrayed and when. He speaks of it openly. He also knows his betrayer. In response to his disciples’ frantic question, “Who is it?”, he offers a sign; sharing with Judas Iscariot a piece of bread. The disciples, as I imagine them, either mishear or misunderstand Jesus. For, with his command to Judas, “Do quickly what you are going to do”, and Judas’ hasty exit, the disciples do nothing.

The Last Supper (La ultima Cena), Benjamin West, 1786

As astounding as the disciples’ ignorance of the implications of what transpires before them and their indolence in not preventing Judas from departing, Jesus’ following words amaze as much for what he does not say as for what he says. He doesn’t talk of evil or that Judas is evil or how Judas’ evil betrayal will portend the evil consequence of his death. No, Jesus speaks of his glorification, which is his destiny, which is his obedience to God’s word, which is his fulfillment of God’s will, which will be, can be accomplished only through his death.

Beyond the end our text, Jesus continues to prepare his disciples for his exodus, saying, among many things, this chiefest commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.”

As long as we live and as I long as we follow Jesus, this commandment remains. We are to love one another, any and all people, in the mundane, even menial acts of service and in great heroic, risk-taking, potentially life-losing sacrifice. For, as our Lord Jesus, so we, his disciples, as precious as life is, dying to our lives in this world isn’t the worst thing that can happen to us. Rather it is dying, which all of us must do, without greater cause or purpose than ourselves.

For many years, this has been my mantra: When I know that for which, in the name of love and justice, I am willing to die, then I will know how to live. For only when I know and can name the cause and purpose of my own sacrifice can I be free of all the temptations and allures of this life that hold my heart hostage to selfish preservation.

Jesus is, and, therefore, you are the ones for whom I am willing to die. For what or for whom is it for you?

 

Footnote:
(1) John 15.12-14

Illustration: The Last Supper (1786), Benjamin West (1738-1820). Note: West’s portrayal of the Last Supper depicts Jesus, with bread in his left hand, having served the brooding Judas Iscariot, who, hearing Jesus’ bidding, “Do quickly what you are going to do”, is on his way out to betray Jesus. On Jesus’ right is the disciple “whom Jesus loved”, who, at the request of Peter (on Jesus’ left), has inquired of Jesus, “Who is it?” regarding the identity of the betrayer.

2 thoughts on “Greater Love

  1. Paul,
    I was privileged to have been there after your sabbatical when you shared your mantra with the congregation. Since that time I’ve pondered that question many times and my answer had only changed slightly over the years. I’d absolutely die for my friends and family, especially trying to protect them from hate and evil. There is so much hate and discontent in the world today and people lose their lives because of it every single day. But because of Jesus’ love for us I’m still hopeful that we will learn to follow Jesus and love our neighbors as ourselves.

    Thank you for these words!! We hear them each year but each year they stir up something powerful in me!

    Much love!

    Like

  2. Thanks, Loretta. I agree with you that words such as these – Love God, love neighbor as self – though said/heard often can stir up something new, something different with each utterance and hearing. As for my mantra, it, too, leads me to answer differently as I age and, I pray, also grow wiser, more courageous. As I ponder it, in league with the greatest commandment to love God and love neighbor (and in league with the Parable of the Good Samaritan), my awareness and notion of “neighbor” has grown to include everyone…

    In this, I think that you, in your field of endeavor in security, have had a good and greater sense of this than most. For you oft were in situations that could have been dangerous. Thus, it seems to me, that you had to know your life could have been threatened at any time. In that awareness, it further seems to me that, whether conscious or not, you acknowledged the reality of death facing you and, if not you, then your charges, those you trained…

    And, in this rumination, I think of people world-round who live daily in threatening circumstances of war and deprivation. Surely, the specter of death hovers over and around them. I cannot imagine living that way. Yet, truly, you write: “There is so much hate and discontent in the world today and people lose their lives because of it every single day.” Sadly, amen.

    Love

    Like

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