John is given credit for the Fourth Gospel, three of the Epistles, and some believe he was the author of Revelation, although that one is a little less certain. The Gospel of John is also thought to have had some additions thrown in at the end long after he died in Ephesus.
All this wonkiness aside, the important thing to me in John's gospel showed up in this morning's assigned Gospel reading. Jesus is gathered with his disciples. He says to them:
"I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’"--John 13:34-35
Interestingly, this statement follows the moment when Jesus dips the bread and hands it to Judas Iscariot, a sign that it would be Judas who would betray him. The text says that "Satan entered into him [Judas]" at that moment. That is to say, Judas gave into the temptation to sell out his friend for a cash payment of some silver. Jesus sends Judas off and then gives this new directive about love.
It seems to me that his timing was intentional. Having sent Judas off, he is shoring up those who remain with him in the reminder that there first mission must be to love... in the face of what is to be a frightening and chaotic moment as they see him arrested and sent to certain death at the hands of the Roman authorities. If there is ever a time for them to hold fast to love, and to remember the love he demonstrated to them, this would be the time.
Probably more than any of the synoptic gospels, the Gospel of John has the constant refrain of, "Love, Love, Love." Love, not only expressed in words, but in actions such as the conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, and Jesus weeping for his friend, Lazarus. But it's in the giving of this new commandment that I see Jesus passing on the essential truth which reaches beyond the disciples to touch each of us today.
Sometimes, I think this is the passage that many Christians have forgotten as they go about leveling judgment against friends and neighbors, not to mention those who they keep as the strangers at the gate. The song, "They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love," puts me on edge, simply because I have seen and experienced how this love sometimes gets expressed, and it isn't in a way that I think Christ himself would recognize as the kind of love he was bringing to the world. Accusing LGBT people of undermining the moral fabric of society, denying immigrants the ability to access health care or education, decrying the "pluralism" in churches as a threat to Christianity: all of it leads back to that anti-Christ called, "Fear." And what does our patron saint of the day have to say to this?
"There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.We love because he first loved us.Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also."--1 John 4:18-21
And so, my rhetorical question is: who is that we do not love? Who is it that we can not love?
Perhaps before we attempt to do anything else, we should take the time to consider those questions, and wade into those waters of Fear that keep us from perfecting our love. In all likelihood, if we are really honest, the one we can not love is quite often the person staring us in the mirror. And that's my invitation on this night: love yourself, as you are, because He loved you first. Peace.