he Easter Season celebrates the universal fact that Jesus laid down His life, for the entire world, His friends and enemies alike. Jesus in John 15:13 said that the sign or mark of friendship is when one can lay down one's life for "the other". "Greater love has no one than this that one lays down his life for his friends". Does Jesus expect us to do the same in our relationships? I often wonder. When Peter offered to lay down his life for Jesus, his Friend and Master wondered if he knew the implication of what He was saying. However, Peter did not die for Jesus; instead he denied Him in the moment of intense scrutiny. But Jesus knew Peter's heart, his commitment, his sincerity as well as his weakness. He would eventually give Peter His greatest assignment yet, "feed my sheep". Obviously Jesus is not asking us to commit "suicide" as a proof of our friendship or love. In 1 Corinthians 15:3 Paul calls it "dying daily". Killing ourselves daily is quite a challenge. It is bringing under control all our unruly desires, taming our wild appetites, allowing God to make something beautiful and harmonious out of the discordance of our lives. It is the ability to bridle the whole body according to James 3:2. One of our favorite hymns describes the slaying of self as "let sense be numb, let flesh retire."
My thoughts then shifted to how I can lay down my life for "the other". In Luke 10 a young lawyer asked Jesus, What must I do to be saved? Jesus' response: "Love God and love your neighbor" ignited his follow up question, "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus responded with the story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus did not define, nor limit the concept of neighbor. He did not say we must only love people from our race, our tribe, our ethnicity, our country, our community, our church, our workplace, our social networks and our family. What about religion? He did not suggest that we must only love Christians and those of the same denomination with us. He did not ask us to despise those of other religions: Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, Shinto, Jainism, Taoism, Rastafarianism, Goddess worshippers, WICCA, Druids, African Traditional Religion and other traditional religions, even those of irreligious systems: atheism, agnostic and secular humanism. Jesus did not indicate that we cannot love those who are below us in status, those who do not measure up to us, those whose values are not in sync with ours, and those who are downright unlovable from our perspectives. He said to love people of all class systems, the poor so we do not add to their misfortune, the rich so we are not accused of jealousy. He even demands of us to love those who not only hate us but cannot stand the thought of us.
In our world today the evidence of "not loving our neighbor" is quite stark and rampant. It is manifest in man's inhumanity to man, brother against brother, sister against sister, man against woman, woman against man, children against parents, parents against children, wives against husbands, husbands against wives, friends against friends, neighbours against neighbours, communities against communities, nations against nations, the struggles between the rich and the poor, oppressive systems of the world, injustice, inequities, deprivation, marginalization, recklessness, misappropriation of public funds, embezzlement, organized crime, thefts, racism, domination, politicized religion, erosion of accepted values, which some might say is subjective anyway, exploitation of the masses by secular and religious leaders, political correctness, decline of family systems, intimidation, manipulation, aggression, violence, kidnappings, children's recalcitrance, permissiveness, pervasive poverty, greed, in a world that Mahatma Gandhi says has enough for everybody's need but not for everybody's greed, reckless sexualisation of everything that should be held in reverence, oppressive hierarchical structures, abuse of power in the work place, within the family, in the community, within the Church, power to play god in some instances where life and death decisions are cruelly made for others, deprivations and the violations of the personal and innate rights of others, insensitivity of the powerful to the plight of the powerless, the list is endless.
God chose to love us while we were yet sinners. He chose to permit His Son's death on the cross. Jesus chose to die for us. He chose to lay down His life for us. Jesus then said Love one another as I have loved you. If we truly know God we will love as He does. Loving "the other" is a choice. Laying down one's life for "the other" requires commitment. Hebrews 13:1 says let brotherly (and sisterly) love continue. 1John 4:7 says "Beloved let us love one another for love is of God". True love is like God, just, Holy and perfect. Satan hates. God loves. 1John 3:18 says "let us not love in word or in tongue but in deed and truth". Romans 12:9 say "Let love be without hypocrisy…..be kind and affectionate to one another with brotherly love". 1Corinthians 16:14 says "Let all that you do be done with love". How much can we choose to love our fellow human beings, who annoy us every day, who we do not think much of, whose existence have nothing to do with us. In Galatians 19:34: part of laying down one's life for "the other" is loving the strangers that are among us. How many of us have attitudes about the culturally different, regarding and defining them as "aliens", patronizing them because we feel superior, discriminating against them because we see them as "lesser than", exploiting them because we can. How many of us perceive refugees and immigrants as strange underdogs, wondering from which unmentionable planet they have come from, evaluating them with such unkind curiosity. 1Corinthians 13 says "love is kind". 1John 4:20 says "if a man says I love God but hates his brother he is a liar, if he does not love his brother who he can see, how he will love God whom he cannot see". Is it possible for us to love all people? How easy is it for us to love "the other?" Only you can answer that question.
Psalm 15: 3 captures some of the essence of loving our neighbor: do not backbite with your tongue, do no evil to your neighbor, do not take up a reproach against your friend. (a) Do not backbite with your tongue, spreading bad news about people, tearing down others behind their backs, gossiping, tale bearing, false witnessing, slandering, whispering, vain talking, defaming, tattling, deceiving, maligning other people's character, peddling false news and quick to twist information. Do not be an "accuser of the brethren" (Revelation12:10). (b) Do no evil to your neighbor. The Golden rule says "Do unto others as we want others to do to us". Are we so intolerant of "others" that we do to them even as they do to us or even worse, before they do to us? Do we suffer from superiority complex that we, look down on others because we consider ourselves better endowed than them? Doing evil does not mean taking a knife to cut them into two. It starts by not giving due recognition to some people because we think they do not measure up to our standard. It is denying people their innate rights and privileges. A friend, a colleague, a fellow human being runs to you for help, for solace, for comfort and you have no time to be a good Samaritan because you have something more important on your hands than helping someone in distress. Some misfortune has befallen someone and you are quick to peddle the notion that God is punishing him or her for some offences. If you lack compassion towards "the other" in their deepest hour of need, that is doing evil. It is not love. (c). Do not take up a reproach against your neighbor/friend. How loyal are you? Are you the first one to expose someone else's short coming with undeserved self righteousness? What type of friend are you? Love covers multitudes of sins. Remember Noah's disreputable incidence in Gen 9:20-23. Are you like Ham who spreads the bad news or like Shem and Japheth who took a piece of garment walked backwards and covered their father's nakedness? When someone you consider guilty is down, do you jump on the band wagon of those passing judgement even before the facts are made known or do you offer support and fair play because it is the right thing to do?
Jesus even adds the toughest one in Matthew 5: 44 "For I say to you love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you." Wow!!!! We all need the Lord's help with that one. Vs 46 adds for if you love those who love you what rewards have you? Love in familial relationships, father/mother/children siblings, means honouring each other and not provoking each other to anger. It is having the mind of Christ and affirming each other as sons and daughters of God. Jesus talks of love in marriage; it is not possession, control or jealousy. Jesus modelled for us the concept of laying down life for others. He gave His all to the world. In Mathew 5:45 Jesus also says that God shows no partiality. He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous, providing equal benefits each day for all, thereby giving all equal opportunity to come into a relationship with Him. Laying down one's life for "the other" is being noble, sensitive, thoughtful, unselfish, sincere, cheerful, loyal, warm, not puffed up, not behaving rudely, not envious, not arrogant and not spiteful. It is genuinely caring one for another and upholding each other.
Are you on?