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The Rev. Frank Logue
King of Peace Episcopal Church
Kingsland, Georgia
May 13, 2001

The Easiest Commandment
John 13:31-35

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.”

That is the essence of the Gospel for the week. In one sentence, Jesus summarizes it all for us—the Readers Digest version from Jesus’ own lips. I’m not sure about how that statement strikes you, but “love one another” doesn’t sound either very new to me nor does it sound like a proper commandment at all. As a late edition to the top ten list of commandments, love one another doesn’t measure up. Don’t commandments start with “Thou shalt not….” If it is a commandment, then the Gospel reading this week gives us the easiest commandment of all. Jesus looks around at a group of people that have hung together through thick and thin for the last three years and tells them to love each other. That’s so easy that Jesus didn’t even have to ask.

Let’s take a look at the setting for this easiest commandment. Jesus’ words come at the end of a meal with his disciples that we now know as The Last Supper. Jesus has just finished washing his disciples’ feet to teach them that they should be servants of all. The night is winding down. Whatever he says is bound to gain a lot of importance in latter years as Jesus’ followers look back on this last meal together. Jesus takes this prime opportunity to make an impact by trying to pass off the most bland, least offensive summary of all he has taught as if it were a new commandment.

Jesus could have said, “Remember the poor,” “Take care of widows and orphans,” or “Make your Mama breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day.” Jesus had the chance to say something important, and if was going to dare to call it a new commandment, it should at least not sound so familiar. Jesus always talked about love and showed love for others. There could not have been a surprised look in the room when Jesus said “love one another.” After all, this is Jesus. He said we should love our enemies. That’s the hard commandment. Now he tells us to love one another. That’s got to be the easiest commandment of all.

So now you see my problem. I am called as a preacher to read, pray, study, and then comment on the scripture reading for the week. I’m supposed to open it up in a way that we can all see the Word of God from a fresh angle. But we have already talked about loving our enemies. It’s been some weeks back now, but I clearly remember preaching about love your enemy. That was a tough sermon to work through. But now we get love one another. That’s what I thought on Monday anyway.

Then on Tuesday I got an email from a friend from seminary that called my attention to the first phrase of our reading. It says, “When he had gone out.” The he who had gone out is Judas Iscariot. Judas Iscariot, the ultimate bad guy, the rotten apple in the bunch of 12 disciples. Judas Iscariot who lived with Jesus for his three years of public ministry only to turn on Jesus at the last and betray him to enemies who had him killed. That’s the guy that starts our reading for this week.

“When he had gone out” is not a throwaway line. Judas slips out into the night, but it’s not just any night. This is the night before Jesus is to die and in leaving Judas sets a whole series of events into motion. Judas sets out early from the dinner table surrounded by friends to betray his rabbi, his teacher, really to betray them all. The Gospel does not follow Judas, but rather sticks with Jesus. The door is no sooner closed behind Judas than Jesus says, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.” Glorified how? When? Nothing has happened. Where is the glory?

It helps to know that for John, glorification is a code word for Jesus’ death. John saw that it was only through his death that Jesus was raised to new life. So for John, the crucifixion means glory. Here we see Jesus’ death and resurrection being set in motion. Judas has left the building. Soon the arrest party will be in the garden. The end has begun. Jesus knows this and begins to speak of glory. Jesus is headed to Golgotha, the place of the skull, and the disciples cannot follow. That’s just as well, because they won’t follow him anyway. Before the night is over, they will all scatter. The disciples behave like scardy cats instead of sheep of a faithful shepherd.

By dawn, all the disciples will be separated from Jesus and none of them will be more separated from the pack than Judas. Judas will be cut of from the disciples for all time. Judas is the ultimate outcast, the one disciple in twelve who will never have a church named in his honor. Now that the greedy old Judas is gone, Jesus gives his new commandment. Here’s the full version, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Jesus is speaking to his disciples and he tells them to love each other. Ask yourself this, did Jesus mean Judas too? Did Jesus wait until Judas was cut out of the pack before giving the commandment or was Judas part of the one another they were to love? How far are we to take this one another thing? Perhaps the better question to ask is how far did Jesus take this one another thing? Jesus told his disciples that they are to love one another the way he loves. The way Jesus loved was with an irrepressible, self-giving love that never depended upon how worthy of being loved the other person seemed to be. Jesus did not wait until Judas was gone to share the first communion with his disciples. Jesus included Judas with those who ate the bread and drank from the cup.

The disciples didn’t quite get the message. None of them responded that night. Jesus told his eleven disciples to love one another yet not a one of them went out into the night in search of Judas. No one gave Judas a thought during the dark hours of Good Friday, when Judas went out to a lonely place and killed himself in despair.

I do not believe that Jesus stopped loving Judas. I think if Jesus could have done so, he would have gone out to look for Judas and bring him back into his group. Isn’t that what Jesus said he would do? After all, Jesus once said that he was the Good Shepherd who would leave the 99 sheep to go after the one lost sheep. If ever there was a lost sheep, especially that first Good Friday, it was Judas.

Knowing that Jesus’ commandment to love one another could include loving Judas changes everything. Jesus’ commandment to love one another is a command to love those near and supposedly dear to us. Yet giving that message as Judas is slinking through the night on an errand to betray Jesus puts a different spin on things. We are reminded that those close to us can sometimes be the most difficult to love of all. How many churches have been torn apart by internal strife? Mistrust. Painful arguments. Hurtful words hurled at people who should be dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Churches can be more sure of the divisions among one another than the love they need to share with each other.

That’s just at our church homes, what about divisions within families. So many families live estranged from each other. Today is Mother’s Day, but how many thousands of mothers will spend this day cut off from their children and grandchildren because of long ago hurts, arguments, and accusations? How many children have parents who won’t speak to them any longer. How many siblings will no longer stay in touch because all they can do when together is fight?

I know that Victoria and Griffin see me at my worst. I love them the most of all and yet in the safe cocoon of our own family, I can treat them with less care and respect than I treat others. I, like everyone else, can get so caught up in loving my enemies, and helping others that I can miss the opportunity to reach out to the people closest to me. It is such an easy trap in which to fall.

Reaching out to the other while missing those close to us is so easy that Jesus thought it needed a commandment all its own. Jesus could see all the strife and division to come and he said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.” We are to be peacemakers in our own churches, in our own extended families, and in our own homes. We are to bear one another’s burdens and share one another’s joys. Jesus calls on us to reach out in love to the unlovable in our own midst. Even when the one another you are loving betrays you, keep on loving. Far from being the easiest commandment, loving one another might turn out to be the hardest commandment of all.

Amen.

 

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