Lectionary blog for April 28, 2013
Fifth Sunday of Easter
Texts: Acts 11:1-18, Revelation 21:1-6
My grandma had a brother who was one of the most worthless and trifling human beings I ever met. He was mean to his wife, ignored his children, avoided honest work like the plague and was known far and wide as the biggest and most brazen liar in half a state.
One day Grandma and one of her many granddaughters were sitting on the front porch, rocking, shelling peas and gossiping about the brother. The young woman maintained that her great-uncle was beyond hope and a serious embarrassment to herself and every other member of the family. She filled Grandma in on his latest episodes of public sorriness.
Grandma just rocked and shelled and nodded and listened and finally she said, “I’m sure everything you say is true. Still, Jesus loves your great-uncle.” The granddaughter turned red in the face and sputtered, “I doubt that. I don’t think even Jesus could love him.” “Yes child,” Grandma said, “Jesus loves everybody and Jesus loves your great-uncle too.”
Then she stopped rocking and shelling and sat perfectly still, while she stared off across the hills. “Course,” she said, almost to herself, “that could be ’cause Jesus don’t know him as good as we do.”
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus commands us to love one another. But Grandma has put her finger on the crux of our problem with that commandment; some people are genuinely hard to like. How in the world are we to be expected to love them? How can Jesus order us to do something so difficult?
Part of the problem is that we confuse “like a lot” with love. We think love is just “like” taken to the highest degree. This is because in our culture love is almost always associated with romantic love, what in Greek is designated by the word “eros.” So to love is to have intense feelings of affection for. “How can that be commanded?” we think. We “fall in love;” we feel what we feel.
Or we associate it with friendship — the Greek “philea,” as in Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love. And again, this is a natural thing; we like some people and others we don’t. We get along with some people; with others we don’t.
Marriage is usually a combination of eros and philea, as well it should be. Friends we make along life’s way, people we just like being around, this is mostly philea — affinity and affection.
All this is natural and cannot be commanded.
But Jesus calls us to “agape,” self-sacrificial love. This is love that has to do with how we act toward one another, not how we feel about each other.
Feelings are, in many ways, uncontrollable. You can’t help liking some people more than others, just as we like some foods and dislike others. Me, I love pinto beans and hate collard greens. Or sports — I love the Braves and hate the Yankees. Same dynamic for the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State. Nothing serious, just emotions. But God calls us to move beyond our likes and dislikes, beyond our feelings, so that we may behave in a loving manner to all people.
This is the point of the story in Acts. An observant Jew didn’t eat certain foods and didn’t associate or eat with uncircumcised people who ate unclean food. Peter has a vision of being commanded of God to eat of the unclean food, then going to a Gentile’s house to preach and eat. God wants Peter to understand that all people are God’s people, that all races and colors and types of humanity are God’s humanity and are to be included in God’s community of faith. Peter’s feelings did not matter to God. Peter’s actions did. God was concerned only with how Peter acted toward those to whom God was sending him.
And that’s what matters to God about us. God is calling us to love one another. God is calling us to act with love toward all those around us. Like Peter, we are being called to move beyond our comfort zones in terms of whom we relate to and how we act toward them.
Love comes first, feelings follow. This is why Grandma was wrong about Jesus and her brother. Jesus did love him, but not because he didn’t know him very well but because he knew him completely and totally and cared about him in spite of what he knew.
Jesus loved him because God’s love, Jesus’ love, is not determined by the worthiness of the object but by the character and intentionality of the one who loves.
It is God’s nature — it the very core of God’s being — to love. Love is what compelled God to create us in the first place. Love is what makes God sustain us. Love is what brought Jesus to this earth. Love is what Jesus taught and lived every day of his earthly life. Love is what took Jesus to the cross and love is what Jesus left behind to bind us together.
And not one of us deserves that love any more than my great-uncle did. But all of us have received it, and all of us are called to share it, pass it on, spread it around. We are to love one another, just as Jesus first loved us.
Amen and amen
- Do you love someone you do not like?
- How can you pass on the love of God?