“This is my command: Love each other.”
Monday, 10 May 2021
I was tempted to begin this week’s reflections with “I love humanity, it’s people I can’t stand”, a quote variously attributed (in different forms) to the scientist Albert Einstein, the poet Edna St Vincent Millay, the actress Marilyn Monroe and the cartoonist Charles Schultz. Not, I must insist, to indicate something of my character, but out of a deep sense of the difficulty of Jesus’ command.
The ‘love command’ has many forms in the New Testament. In other gospels it is broken into what is three dimensions: love God, love neighbour, love yourself. All of them are difficult. How can one truly love God in the face of suffering, or indeed when God seems distant or absent? How does one love one’s neighbour – indeed, who is my neighbour? As to self-love, how many of us manage to steer between pure narcissism on the one hand and self-loathing on the other?
I am not going to try to answer any of these questions. Rather I would suggest that Jesus in John’s Gospel is offering us a challenge: try to love each other. How do we do that? We do that by seeing Jesus in the Other. The Other here is firstly other people – those we know and wider humanity. We see, often struggle to see, but in the act of struggling, come to see, in them, the presence of Jesus. In such striving, we come to see ourselves – good, bad, ugly, beautiful – looking back at us. In seeing Jesus, we also see the perfection we strive for but may never reach this side of eternity. But in seeing eternity in a person, we see, to shamelessly borrow the title of a book by theologian John A T Robinson, the human face of God.
That is the challenge. Let’s have no illusions: it is never easy. Do we – do I – have the courage to strive?