Jesus, say “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Today our Gospel is from the same reading we had on Maundy Thursday. It is Jesus’ last teaching after he washes the feet of his disciples, just before he is arrested. He commands them to “love one another as I have loved you.”
In the Bible there are four different forms of “love” used. We have philia: the love of equals. (A love we choose: our companions.) There is passionate love: eros. There is storge, the love between parents and children - for our relatives. A love that we are born into.
And we have agape: love of humankind (so to speak): a spiritual love. A love that goes beyond the self to the benefit of others. It is the selflessness that Jesus models for us that offers us a vision of forgiveness and mercy for every living thing. And in that: healing. Jesus doesn’t ask us to love one another as equals. He asks us to love as he loves us: selflessly. Agape love.
It is a tall order when we first start to wrap ourselves around this concept… we don’t even love ourselves selflessly…
I am reminded of St. Benedict’s encouragement: “Listen with the ear of your heart.”
As the apostles spread out to follow Jesus in his commission to spread that love of God, they are of course faced with those who are different from themselves.
Peter has an amazing vision: He is confronted with new people, new customs and new food. He doesn’t think he should eat of the food because it is not clean according to his custom. In our reading, a “voice from heaven” tells Peter, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” It is the reminder: Everything God makes is sacred. It is not ours to judge.
Several of the early community seem concerned that Peter is eating and bringing the good news to the Gentiles, to those who are different. He tells them, “The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.”
And the rest of the community then praised God, saying,
"Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
They recognize that God also calls them (these outsiders) to relationship. This spiritual relationship, this sacredness is extended far beyond our imaginings to those things, places and people that we don’t understand or can’t yet comprehend. As a species…We are naturally judgmental. It’s part of what sets us apart from other species. It is to our benefit to be judgmental. It helps us make decisions, to weigh the benefits or risks, to develop guidelines and distinguish safety. But our judgment over time can become calcified as a self-centered righteousness rather than growing into the wisdom that recognizes (like Peter did) that it is not ours to be judge. As Christians it is ours to be loving.
There is a mystery and a sacredness to the created world that we can never fully understand. That is why we come together to praise God in awe and wonder, and to glean how we may participate in the redeeming relationship that gives us true life: a flourishing life for all.
The psalm today praises God through every expression. God present with the mountains and hills, and snow and fog, and stars and sun, and all creatures of the land and sea. The great creation that we sing about is beyond anything we can truly comprehend…while at the same time the reading from Revelation reminds us that God is in this creation with us. God is not far off but part of the very mix: the alpha and the omega. The beginning and the end- all; From dust to stardust - …and beyond our wildest imaginings.
When we praise God we are praising the majesty and miracle of our very selves enlivened by something very Good. We are enlivened by the Spirit - and as humans we have the free will to live and move in the world; in nature, culture and society. These aspects of the environment are all interwoven. There is a delicate natural balance in all that we do and in all that we are.
The weave is dependent on myriad strands that are not always obvious to us. This is so true in the natural world, where scientists have proven that altering one aspect of an ecosystem can have huge impacts (unbeknownst to us) on other species, and land, and water.
We are learning this about our bodies too: now understanding the gut itself is being studied as an ecosystem, with a tender balance that has ramifications on our brains and our hearts, among other things… We are made of intricate systems.
And as humans, our cultures continue to have systems at play that create imbalances in financial equity, health and achievement, gender equality. Imbalances that are difficult to discern, remedies that make matters worse because they are based on our limited human understandings.
Our societies are wrought with the struggle of implicit bias - when it comes …to one another.
We are still struggling to love as Jesus asks us to love.
We still have a lot to learn from this passage from Acts, but also from the hope unveiled in revelation that The home of God is among mortals. God will wipe every tear from our eyes. God is drawing us all into renewed relationship. God says, “See, I am making all things new.”
We can’t always know why things are the way that they are. Jesus asks us to live into this mystery by loving selflessly. We do not know what grief someone else is carrying, what one kindness can do to assuage the suffering. It is not ours to judge, but rather ours to nurture, tend and to love.
We don’t know the gentle balance really, we can only praise God by participating in agape, that great love that surpasses our understanding.
When we talk about surrendering to God. This is what we mean. It doesn’t mean that we give over our minds to blindly follow. It means we give over our hearts to assuredly follow in a path of righteousness that is not our own, but belongs to and benefits all of creation:
fruit trees and all cedars;
Wild beasts and all cattle, *
creeping things and winged birds;
Kings of the earth and all peoples, *
Young men and maidens, *
old and young together.
If we “listen with our hearts” we may find that
God has a way of saying to us:
"See, I am making all things new."