"If You Really Loved Me, You Would..." – John 14:15-21
“If you really loved me, you would…”
Does hearing this phrase fill you with self-confidence and joy? Or, does it weigh you down with dread and shame?
That depends on how you define true love.
All too often we distort true love into a force that places rigid demands on the other. True love is a tool we employ to change someone else’s thoughts and actions so that our needs can be met. True love is the ability to make others feel so bad about their faults and failings that they become open to our desire to change them into better, more lovable, people. True love is reminding others know just how fortunate they are that they are recipients of our love; and that their slightest mistake or slip-up would result in a life without the blessing of our love, which, we assure them, would be a miserable life indeed.
Jesus, on the night in which he was betrayed, talked about love and said to his disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” The implications of this profound statement hinges on our understanding of true love – the love with which God loves us. If we define true love in the manner that I described a minute ago, then the statement “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” is Jesus’ final attempt to place rigid demands on us; Jesus’ final attempt to change our thoughts and actions so that we can meet his high standards; Jesus’ final attempt to shame us into becoming better, more lovable, people; Jesus’ final attempt to let us know how fortunate we are that we are loved, and that the slightest mistake or slip-up would result in a life without the blessing of his love.
Isn’t it good news that Jesus offers a different – a better – definition of true love? The true love that Jesus offers is evident in every aspect of his birth, life, teaching, miracle-working, truth-telling, suffering, and victory over death and destruction.
I found this explanation from Nancy Ramsay particularly poignant:
The love Jesus wants his hearers to embrace is not an abstract philosophical concept but the lived reality revealed in the life, relationships, and actions of a simple Nazarene who looks and talks like them and lives simply among them. He feeds the hungry, touches lepers, heals the sick, and speaks and acts toward women with care and regard. Love is seen in his life and service and compassion. It is also seen in his fierce protests against those who abuse this vision of an ethic of mutual regard and care. Instead of power as domination, Jesus invites those who meet him to imagine power that has as its goal the well-being of all persons regardless of social status”
(Nancy Ramsay, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 2, p. 492).
This is the type of love Jesus speaks about when he says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
Jesus’ desire is for his disciples to continue the work that he started – the work of healing the world from its self-inflicted pain and freeing the people from the bonds of political, religious, and social oppression.
The context in which Jesus utters these words is crucial to understanding what Jesus meant by this phrase. These are Jesus’ last words to his dear friends. These are Jesus’ last words after humbly stooping down to wash each of his friends’ feet. These are Jesus’ last words before turning himself over to the ridiculous civil trial and procedures of corrupt justice.
If the truth that Jesus embodied through his life, death, and resurrection were to impact the world in any meaningful way, it would be accomplished through the testimony of his disciples with whom he broke bread that night – disciples who would soon find themselves alone, disjointed, and paralyzed by fear. It may sound like Jesus is placing an unfair conditional commandment before them by saying, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” But what he’s really saying is, “You know that what I’ve shown you is true peace, joy, and love; so share it with others and change the world.” This is not an unfair conditional commandment; it’s an invitation to change the world. And perhaps the best news of all for the disciples was that this task was not theirs alone; rather, they would be supported, encouraged, and sustained by God’s presence through the Advocate – the Holy Spirit.
We, too, have been given this invitation to change the world. For when we experience God’s true love we are free to share that incredible love with others. True love, after all, is love that is life-giving. True love is a tool we employ to change our own thoughts and actions so that other peoples’ needs can be met. True love is the ability to make others feel so accepted in spite of their faults and failings that they realize they are more than the sum of their mistakes. True love is reminding others just how fortunate they are that they are loved by God; and that God will not allow their slightest mistake or slip-up to result in a life without the blessing of God’s love, which would be a miserable life indeed.
Let us pray,
Creator and redeemer of heaven and earth,
you have fallen madly in love with us – truly in love with us.
We have a very clear, yet often incredibly difficult, commandment before us:
To change the world by loving others just as Jesus loved the poor,
the oppressed, the sick, the dying, the spiritually dead, the physically dead,
the stressed, the addicted, the hungry.
If such true love would ever pour out of our bodies we must first be filled
with that true love ourselves.
Fill us, Lord. Thank you, Lord.