Jesus teachings on love are perhaps his most divisive, counter-cultural, and burdensome, moral principles he ever taught. There is this stereotype that everyone likes Jesus teachings on love, that everyone likes the idea of lovey-dovey Jesus because that doesn’t rock the boat. Is that true though? Is it true that the idea, the reality, that Jesus loves isn’t divisive or merely the idea that Jesus loves us, that Jesus loves me, my people, my team, my group? Is it true that people like the reality that we ought to love one another as Jesus loves us, that we out to be compassionate towards each other, or do people merely like the idea that we ought to love and show compassion on those whom we believe deserve it?
Think about the amount of amount of outrage you’ve seen lately, the anger you’ve seen lately. Last year, people were dancing on graves, expressing a refusal to mourn people who died of COVID-19 because they didn’t take certain preventative measures. Really? Because they didn’t get a shot?1 My sister, the most outspoken progressive I know, was standing around and someone said, right in front of her, that they think progressives should be drug out of their homes and shot, and to make matters worse, nobody stood up for her.
We live in a world of outrage and anger. Facebook has all but admitted that it’s algorithm is, in part, designed to capitalize on the addictive power of anger, that it is designed to prioritize anger inducing content, because that’s what gets the most engagement.2 Outrage and anger is the the air we breathe the water we are swimming in, and like someone living in an old house full of asbestos, it is killing us in ways cannot see and will continue to do so until we look at the cold ugly reality and, tear it out, and put in something better.
When reading this passage in John 13, it’s important to keep in mind that this is sandwiched right in-between Judas going to betray Jesus and Jesus prophesying Peter’s denial. Jesus said this right after he washed the feet of the apostles including the one would betray him, and the one who would deny him. In the verses we read, he is telling them to do the same.
Elsewhere in the Bible, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus even explicitly says “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the gentiles do the same?” – Matthew 5:43-47 NRSV
Further when asked “Who is my neighbor?” by somebody trying to get out of loving people they don’t like, Jesus told a story about someone whom they person who asked probably did not like. That’s the whole point of the parable of The Good Samaritan. You know the story of the Hatfields and McCoys, the hillbilly families who feuded for years? Being asked “Who is my neighbor?” by a a first century Judean and responding with a story about a good Samaritan, is like being asked “Who is my neighbor?” by a Hatfield and responding with a story about a good McCoy.
Jesus teachings about divisive, so counter-cultural because they do not apply only those on our team, those whom we like or think deserve it, and in so doing they break our addiction to anger, and tear down our pride. David French – a former civil liberties attorney, who spent most of his career going to court in defense of religious liberty, and now in retirement is a cultural commentator, who often gets flack for defending the rights of people with whom he disagrees – recently said this:
“The culture often claims it wants Christians to be like Christ, but does it really? The spirit of the age is better described by a famous quote by a Peruvian general and president named Óscar Benavides: ‘For my friends, everything; for my enemies, the law.’ Christ responds with, ‘For my friends, mercy; for my enemies, mercy.’”3
The fact that Jesus’ love mercy for friend and enemy alike also breaks our pride Charles Spurgeon, who often called “the Prince of Preachers” and one of the most broadly influential preachers in Protestant history, put it like this: “But there is another offence, which is a very sore one, and the world has never forgiven the cross that ‘offence’ yet, it will not recognize any distinctions between mankind. The cross makes moral and immoral persons go to heaven by the same road; the cross makes rich and poor enter heaven by the same door; the cross makes the philosopher and peasant walk on the same highway of holiness; the cross procures the same crown for the poor creature with one talent that the man with ten talents shall receive.”4
Christ’s call, Christ’s command, to love one another as Christ loves us, breaks our addiction to anger, and breaks our pride, and that’s why, while it may be offensive and divisive, it is also profoundly liberating
One of the most powerful ways to live this out in our addicted to outrage culture is to converse more and fight less. You know the old saying “If all you’ve got is a hammer everything becomes a nail”? The inverse is also true; if all you see are nails the only tool your gonna carry around is a hammer. If all you see are battles the only tools carry around are gonna be weapons. Approach disagreements not battles but as opportunities to talk and to learn from each other.
Get out of your silos, spend time with people who are different from you. In particular, spend time with people whom the world says should be your enemies. There is great power in simply laughing with someone the world says you should be screaming at.
When your anger addiction manifests itself in subtle ways throughout the week, and you feel yourself wanting you shout and scream about some stranger on on the internet who said something offensive, or extend your middle finger ant somebody who cut you off in traffic, or talk down to somebody and make them feel small so you can feel big: stop breathe, and let it go, just let it go. Be kind, even when you don’t want to.
Love one another, as Christ loves you, the way he loved his disciples: washing the feet of all of them, including John, and Peter and Judas, the one who would be there at the cross, as well as the one who would deny him, and the one who would betray him
Love one another. It’s a difficult command, in our rage addicted age, and if you proclaim it and you live it you will be divisive, you will be called weak and wishy-washy. People will say that you don’t care about the truth because you aren’t willing to punch someone in the nose because they’re wrong. But the truth is that we are called, we are commanded, to love one another as Christ loves us. The truth is that that we are commanded by God to love our enemies and those who are different from us. The truth is that we have a moral responsibility to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. If you aren’t speaking in love, if you aren’t following the golden rule – both in what you say and the manner in which you say it – then you aren’t standing up for the truth; you are standing up for one part of the truth at the expense of another part. The truth is: we are called, we are commanded by God to love one another. We are called, we are commanded by God to love our enemies and love our neighbors whom the world tells us ought to be our enemies. That is what Jesus taught, that that is how he lived, and he is the truth, he is the is the way, and he is the life. Follow him, follow his example. As he has loved you, go and love one another.
- For a closer look at this, check out the article Stop Death Shaming: Mocking the unvaccinated dead does not save lives. By Elizabeth Bruening. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/09/stop-death-shaming/619939/
- For more information about this, check out Are You Angry? Facebook Loves You by John Brandon, at Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnbbrandon/2021/10/28/are-you-angry-facebook-loves-you/?sh=7fce90a07971
- David French, Why Compassion is Divisive: In the age of cancel culture, mercy makes enemies. The Dispatch. https://frenchpress.thedispatch.com/p/why-compassion-is-divisive?s=r
- Ibid, quoting Spurgeon