A Lectionary Reflection on John 13:31-35, 5th Sunday of Easter

Agape Love

This pericope is part of a larger section of the Fourth Gospel, described by scholars as the farewell discourse of Jesus, consisting of 13:1-17:26. In the discourse, Jesus is preparing his disciples for his suffering, death, and resurrection.

Prior to this pericope, Jesus predicted that Judas would betray him. Then Jesus speaks of his glory. Often in conversations, people will employ the word glory, glorious, etc., in association with power, respect, honour, success, and victory. For example: “What a glorious victory,” in reference to a hockey team winning the Stanley Cup. Or: “She basks in glory now that she has sold over a million copies of her book.” In the Gospel of John however, the word glory, glorified, etc., is associated with the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus, which are the exact opposite of the ‘worldly’ meanings—albeit Jesus did win the victory over the powers of sin, death and evil, yet that victory came in the most unusual of ways, through his weakness, suffering and dying on the cross. Power in the world is often associated with military force or someone of great wealth. Respect and honour are often associated with outstanding achievements such as earning a PhD., excelling at a sport, becoming a Prime Minister, President, King or Queen. Success means becoming a famous movie star.

Reference to Jesus being glorified is also associated with what comes next in this pericope—his words concerning his departure from the disciples.

In place of his presence, he gives all of his would-be followers the love commandment in verses 34-35. He describes the commandment as “a new commandment.” Some might debate both those words “new” and “commandment.” For instance, the Torah teaches the faithful to love God and to love one’s neighbour, and Jesus himself sums up all of the commandments in the Torah by teaching the faithful to love God and one’s neighbour. Moreover, some would question whether love can be commanded—to command one to love may place conditions on loving, and true love is unconditional.

The word for love in this pericope is agape. Agape love is of the highest kind—it involves unselfish giving, loyalty, faithfulness, sacrifice, service. Agape love goes the extra mile, considers the needs and interests of others even before one’s own, is willing to face suffering, embarrassment, misunderstanding and even rejection at times for and with others. At its very best, agape love is prepared to die for another.

Such love is always there for us, thanks to the life, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. He calls us as his people to share it with the world, so that: “everyone will know that you are my disciples.”

In a world with more and more hatred, divisions, conflicts and wars, agape love is needed more now than ever. May the LORD help us all so to love!

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A few thoughts on 1 Corinthians 13

Although today, 1 Corinthians 13 is often chosen as a favourite for weddings, the apostle Paul, in writing his first letter to the congregation at Corinth, Greece was addressing some serious issues. Among other things, there appears to have been a division or some degree of conflict in the congregation.

One of the issues causing such division or conflict was that of human pride and sin. There seems to have been some congregants who thought themselves to be better than others. They may have come from wealthy families. They may have thought it was beneath them to associate with the poorer congregants. They may have thought that their education or their achievements in the workplace and community ought to give them certain privileges and entitlements.

In any case, the apostle Paul here in chapter thirteen reaches a beautiful crescendo in this often referred to as his “Love Chapter.” The issues may very well have been closely related to what Paul mentions herein: pride in speaking in tongues or languages, displaying prophetic powers, understanding all mysteries and all knowledge, all faith that brought impressive results, giving away of possessions, the giving of one’s body in some sacrificial (perhaps Paul had in mind marytrdom or being sold into slavery) manner. All of these things people may be tempted to take pride in—yet, without being motivated by and rooted in love, the apostle Paul says they gain absolutely nothing. According to Paul, none of these things, though seemingly impressive and valued, are not what in the end lasts. Love, on the other hand, lasts forever and is the greatest gift of the Holy Spirit.

What does the apostle Paul mean by love? The word he employs has a lot of baggage, it is in the Greek, agape. Agape love is different than romantic, sexual love (eros), or friendship and companionship (philos). Agape love is the greatest love of all in that it is not selfish, and is willing to count the cost by serving others whole-heartedly.

Paul goes on in this chapter to cite several examples of what agape love entails—if you haven’t read it before, I encourage you to do so.

Contemporary examples of agape love may include the following: anonymously being a generous benefactor—e.g., giving a large amount of money to a benevolent organisation without wanting others to know who gave the gift in order that the homeless may have a decent place to live, and funding education for the homeless to train them for employment so that they can be self-supporting. As a grandparent, providing childcare for a single parent mother. Visiting those in prison, hospital, seniors’ facilities, etc. Working without drawing attention to one’s self for a more just and humane society for every human being—with a special commitment to the weakest, most vulnerable citizens. Of course, in some nations of the world this is regarded as “criminal activity,” since it endeavours to remove despots, tyrants and dictatorial powers from office and replace them with humble, kind leaders who genuinely serve their people—especially the least, lost, last and forgotten in society.

Agape love also moves into the larger world that God created to care for: animals, birds, fish, whales, water, air, soil, etc. It lives with an ethic that there is enough for everyone when all of God’s creation is valued, respected and wisely, lovingly shared and cared for.

Agape love sees and celebrates the reality of the petition in the Lord’s Prayer: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.”

Weekly Photo Challenge: Love

Crucifixion by S. Dali

Crucifixion by S. Dali

“For God so loved the World that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” John 3:16

The Gift of Love

13 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. I Corinthians 13:1-13

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