As the Gospel reading for last Sunday did, the reading for today takes us to the upper room in the night when Jesus was betrayed. There, something so significant, so unforgettable, happens. Prior to his departure, Jesus washes his disciples’ feet and shows them how to serve one another with the self-emptying love. Then, Jesus sits with the disciples, shares bread and wine with them, and teaches them how to be one with God and with one another in his self-giving love. And the night grows late. The time of Jesus’ suffering and death is coming very close. Now Jesus delivers his last words to his disciples. What does he say in his last words, in the so-called “farewell speech”? The center of his message is again, love. In the night, Jesus literally pours out his love upon his disciples by washing their feet, by sharing bread and wine, and by delivering the last words. How wonderful it is that someone’s last words and deeds are just about love!
Truly, Jesus is the love incarnate, the living embodiment of divine love. And thus, for the followers of Jesus, there is nothing more important than to understand this love of Jesus, and to practice it in the way that we are called to do. Last week, we reflected on the farewell speech and learned that this love that Jesus is teaching is neither a fuzzy emotion nor an abstract idea. But this love has three key features; Jesus’ love is just love, self-giving love, and fruitful love. And today, as we are looking at the later part of the speech, we find another aspect of love. That is…for those who follow Jesus, love is not simply a valuable or beautiful thing that we choose to do in our lives. But love sometimes is a commandment, actually, the foremost commandment for us to obeyand to abide by.
I believe Jesus really means it, when he says, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:10). And the First Letter of John emphasizes this as it writes,“For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments” (1 John 5:3). But I know…when we hear the words “commandment” and especially, “obedience,” we feel a little tight and uncomfortable. We think that love is something we better do from our heart and at our free will—not by obeying a certain commandment. And we somehow agree that mature love fully comes true only when we are free and independent. Freedom and independence…these virtues seem quite far from the virtue of obedience.
Yes, I understand… Jesus seems quite authoritative about love here. And we, as reasonable and autonomous human beings, have our rights to doubt and raise questions on him now. Right? But here, listen carefully. We should remember… following Jesus is to do more than just the things that make perfect sense to us. Sometimes, following Jesus includes to obey his commandment even when it looks absurd and difficult to us, even when there is no clear reason to do so, and even when it goes against our desire and will. Yes, this obedient way of following Jesus, keeping his commandment of love, is easier said than done.
One day I heard somebody sharing his parenthood experiences. He talked about the most challenging time in raising his kid. At that moment, I immediately thought it would be the time when his child was just born. You know I see my friends with a newborn baby, and lack of sleep is just their life. And newborns are so weak and small that parents always need to give extra care to them. Right? But his answer was different from mine. In retrospect, he said, the hardest time was when his child finally began to say “no” to everything and ask “why” on everything. Do you agree?
Today, I feel like we do the same to Jesus. Sometimes we say so many no-s to Jesus’ call to follow him and ask so many why-s to Jesus’ simple command to love, even though our heavenly parent never leads us to anything harmful or wrong. We refuse and hesitate to take just one step closer to Jesus until we have understandable reasons to do so. We ask Jesus to convince us first before we obey his commandment of love against our desire, against our will. In so doing, we might be giving Jesus the hardest time. But I also understand…we can get easily skeptical about following Jesus when it’s really difficult to just obey his commandment of love. Certainly, some people around us are too bad and evil to love; some situations are too insulting and hurtful to us to show any kind of love. Yes, how can we obey Jesus every time? How can we stop saying “no” and asking “why” every time? What would Jesus say?
Let us find some advice from our Lord Jesus. Today, after the upper room gathering, we see Jesus go into the garden of Gethsemane to pray.
As a true human, Jesus deeply grieves in face of his time of trial and death. The Gospels tell us, in his anguish, Jesus throws himself on the ground and prays earnestly until his sweat becomes like great drops of blood falling down on the ground (Luke 22:44; Matthew 26:38). True, Jesus himself also finds it very difficult to obey God’s will, so he struggles and says, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26:39). But that was not the end. Jesus keeps praying hard instead of saying, “No, I do not want to take up the cross for those sinful humans who never change their ways and turn back to you.” Jesus keeps praying hard, instead of asking, “Why do I have to die for those ungrateful humans who never deserve your grace?” Then, in his prayer, Jesus takes his obedient heart again, “yet, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
Sisters and brothers in Christ, following Jesus is hard. And obeying his commandment of love is even harder. But whenever we find it difficult to love and embrace someone, whenever we find a situation that is almost impossible for us to overcome with love, instead of saying no, why don’t we pray first even just briefly? Then, I am sure that in our prayer, we will see Jesus who gives us an obedient and loving heart again. And whenever our hearts filled with doubts and confusions, instead of just asking why, let us pray first. Then, I am sure that in our prayer, we will find Jesus who encourages us to set aside our reasonable and logical mind for a while and to be faithful in obeying his words single-mindedly. And in our moments of obedience, I am so sure that we will experience this mystery of faith: the more obedient we are to Jesus, the freer we become in his truth; the more obedient we are to his commandment of love, the better we understand the mind of Christ.
On the night in which he gives himself up for us, Jesus calls us to be love-abiding Christians. Jesus simply commands his disciples to obey him, to love him by living as he teaches them. So in remembrance of him who was obedient to the point of death for our new life, let us obey his commandment of love even when we think we cannot. Simply obey…that is the way, perhaps the only way, to grow our faith. May the Holy Spirit be with us as we follow Jesus every moment to be love-abiding Christians. Amen.
Pastor Earl Kim