Called to love the unlikable, the disloyal, the betrayer, the sceptic, the deserter

Mary Copping, 6 May 2018

John 15: 9–17; Acts 10: 44–48

Jesus’ greatest command, according to John’s gospel, is that we love one another as he has loved us. This is what he demonstrated to his disciples all through their time with him. It was what he asked of the disciples at the Last Supper and what he showed in the washing of their feet. But we would all admit that this is a most difficult commandment to keep, especially with particular people we may know.

In our reading, Jesus is at the Last Supper, telling the disciples to love one another as he has loved them. He is asking us to do the same as he did with his disciples. Let’s think of who some of his disciples were.

There was Matthew – he was the tax collector who had been taking people’s money. Nobody liked him, but Jesus asked if he would come to his house for tea, and then chose him to be a disciple. Jesus loved those who nobody else liked.

There was Peter, who said three times that he didn’t know him. Jesus knew that this was what he was going to do, and yet he told Peter that he’d be the rock on which the Church would stand. He forgave Peter and loved him – someone who was so disloyal to him.

There was Judas, who kissed Jesus on the cheek to show the soldiers who to arrest. Jesus knew that Judas would betray him and yet continued to love him. He loved someone who betrayed his trust.

There was Thomas, who couldn’t believe that he had risen, who had to see Jesus’ wounds before he could believe. Jesus had such love for him.

Most of the disciples ran away when Jesus was crucified. They deserted him, and yet Jesus appeared to them in the upper room, greeted them as friends, loved them and forgave them.

Jesus had full forgiveness in his heart for all the disciples, loving them with an agape love – unconditional love that forgave and kept loving – as he does with us now. He forgives us all that we do wrong, and keeps loving us.

Not only did Jesus love the disciples, but he called them his friends – those with whom he was intimate, who he trusted and with whom he shared his life.

I was reminded of an incident that happened in the First World War. A soldier asked his officer if he could go into No Man’s Land, between the trenches, to rescue one of his comrades who was badly injured. The officer gave him permission but said it wouldn’t be worth it; his friend would probably die and he would be killed as well. The man went and somehow managed to get his friend on his shoulders and bring him back to the trenches. The officer then said to the soldier, ‘I told you it wouldn’t be worth it because your friend is dead and you are very badly wounded’. The soldier said, ‘It was worth it, sir’, and explained that when he got to his friend, the friend said to him, ‘Jim, I knew you would come’. We are not asked to do anything as extreme as that soldier did, but we are asked to love people with the love that Christ has for us: that unconditional love, the love that forgives all.

We are asked to love people with the love that Christ has for us: that unconditional love, the love that forgives all.

In our first reading from Acts we are told of the gift of the Holy Spirit given to the people, and Peter being so amazed that it was for the Gentiles as well as the Jews. Just before this, Peter had had a vision. His thinking, as a Jew, had been that the love of God and God’s Spirit were just for his very special people, the Jews, and not for anyone else. God gave him a vision of a large sheet dropping down from heaven and all kinds of four-footed animals, reptiles and birds on it. A voice said, ‘Kill and eat’. To a Jew, these creatures were impure, but God said to him, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane’ (Acts 10: 15). Cornelius, a Gentile, had been asked by the voice of God to go to invite Peter to his house. At first Peter didn’t want to go, because Cornelius was a Gentile, but he was persuaded and met with many Gentiles at Cornelius’ house. He then spoke about his vision, and said, ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him’. And in our reading, Peter is still amazed that the Gentiles are given the Holy Spirit but realises afresh that God is for everyone and loves everyone.

This is how God is asking us to love with his agape love. And of course it is hard, but God gives us his Holy Spirit – the presence of God with us – to help us. Jesus described the Holy Spirit as the Comforter, but the meaning then was different and meant Strengthener. So the Holy Spirit strengthens us to do what Jesus did, and what he asks of us is to love all those around us with his love – sometimes tough love, but all-forgiving. Let us ask God to help us to love with his love. Sometimes it is an act of will to love that person, which God then blesses to enable us to feel his love for them.

Jesus called his disciples his friends, and he calls us his friends. And as we receive the love and friendship of Jesus, let us pass on this love and friendship to others. We are especially blessed to know the love of God and to be able to share that with others. Sometimes we can take for granted our lives as Christians – the knowledge that God is with us and loves us and leads and guides us.

In this dark world, where people need the love of God so much, let us thank God again for his presence with us, by his Holy Spirit, and let us ask him to help us to pass on his love to all those around us. We are God’s representatives, his ambassadors, so let us be good representatives for him.

I wonder what people in our lives are hard to love. Those, like Matthew, who nobody else likes; those, like Peter, who have been disloyal to us; those, like Judas, who have betrayed our trust; those, like the disciples, who have deserted us in our hour of need.

My visual aid is a container of water; the children dropped stones into it and saw the water ripple outwards. I used it to show how, as we love others and show them kindness, this ripples out from them to all those around them. Let us ask God to help us to spread the love of Jesus wherever we go.