Lenten Meditations from the Pastoral Concerns Dept.- Day 9 "New Commandment: Love in the Context of Hatred and Intolerance"
Lenten Meditations- Day 9 (for 15th March 2019)
[The Pastoral Concerns Department of the Church of South India brings out devotions for the 40 Lenten Days in 2019 beginning from the Ash Wednesday. A group of CSI Presbyters from the five states of South India prepared these devotions and published on this official website of the CSI Synod, Official Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/csisynodcommunication/ and the official WhatsApp Broadcast from the number +91 9840577404. You can read/download the English version of the devotion here. The writer of the devotion presents the same in a video on the day. Watch here Rev. Sunil Raj Philip, the Director of the Communication Department of the Church of South India Synod, gives a meditation on "The institution of the Lord’s Supper: Leading to the Alternative Community".]
New Commandment: Love in the Context of Hatred and Intolerance
Texts: John 13:31-38 | Lev. 19: 15-18 | 1 John 4: 4-11
John chapters 13-17 are called the farewell speech of Jesus. Knowing that his time of leaving has come, Jesus gives instructions to his disciples and empowers them. He explains his mission and the challenges for his disciples. He concludes the speech with an intercessory prayer, where he prays for himself, his disciples and for the people who follow him.
John 11 and 12 sets the scene. Jesus was becoming famous and a multitude of people followed him. Some followed him for his miracles, some for his words of wisdom which came from God and some followed him hoping that he will be the future leader of their nation. After the raising of Lazarus, the number of followers of Jesus grew rapidly. The festival season in Jerusalem and Jesus’ availability in Bethany and in Jerusalem helped the followers to gather in one place which led to the procession of Jesus, which is mentioned as the ‘Triumphal Entry’ which the church celebrates as ‘Palm Sunday.’
Among the followers were officials (Jn12:42), Greeks (Jn:20ff) and people who saw Jesus raising Lazarus(Jn 11:45). All was not good for Jesus. The opposition was also rising. The social change happening in the nation and the words of Jesus challenging the religious practices and authority of the local temple administration made the people in power to hate Jesus. They wanted Jesus dead! They conspired against Jesus and thought they are taking a decision which is good for their religion and their nation Jn 11: 47-53.
It is in this context Jesus teaches his disciples to be servants/slaves setting an example of washing the feet of his disciples and wiping them. He goes on to give them the ‘new commandment – love one another as I have loved you’ Jn13. 34. He teaches his disciples to love the people who hate you. It is important to note that this saying follows the incident of Jesus revealing his betrayer and Judas leaving the last supper. Obviously, there is a sense of hatred in the mind of Judas against Jesus and much more sense of hatred among the disciples against Judas and against the local temple authorities.
When Jesus was asked to give the greatest commandment, Jesus gave two commandments which we read in Mt.22: 34-40. To put it in simple words: Love God and love your neighbour. Disciples and others might have been surprised about the second commandment which has its origins in the Leviticus (Lev 19:18). Paul gives an explanation that in the commandment to love your neighbour, all the other commandments are inherent. (read Rom 13: 8-10). The unit of love mentioned in Leviticus and in the synoptic gospels which are quoted in many other places are human love; Love of a person towards another person.
Jesus in John 13.34 sets the standards high, now in a context of hatred and intolerance, the disciples of Jesus need to love ‘like Jesus’ – show the divine love: The divine love which gives one’s life for others. The explanation for the model of love and the divine nature which needs to be inculcated in the lives’ of the followers and the disciples of Jesus are well explained in 1John 4:7ff.
To summarise: The new commandment given to his disciples in the context of hatred, intolerance and conspiracy to kill was to LOVE as Jesus loved you. It is the time to show a sacrificial love- sacrificing everything you have even your life. Jesus did not just teach his disciples, he went on to show them as a model of new love even unto death.
In the World, Then and Now
Persecution of the followers of Christ and proclaimers of justice, people who are hated for their colour, gender, culture, age and sexual orientation are not new. Apostles of Jesus, missionaries and medical social workers fall victims to hate crimes. St. Thomas the Apostle, Jesuit missionary John Britto and Missionary to the Lepers – Graham Staines are some examples of people who were hated and lost their lives in India.
In western countries, even today hate crimes against coloured people, people with a turban, parka-clad Muslim women; children who speak other languages are common. In our times we see hate crimes against non-Hindus, people who do not speak Hindi, women, transgender persons, disabled, poor, refugees and Dalits in our own country. Diabolic hate crimes happening today are called ‘ honour killings’ In recent times two sensational cases of honour killings happened in Tamilnadu. A Dalit young man was hacked to death in broad daylight at Udumalpet. He fell in love with a girl from a dominant caste and the girl’s relatives were against it because ‘their honour was at stake’ the young couple got married and this made the girl’s relatives angry and this resulted in the murder of the young man. A similar incident happened in Namakkal. In this case, the as per media reports the young man was kidnapped and murdered and his body was thrown on the railway tracks. The reasons for such behaviour are crystal clear. People who think they are superior hate the people from a different caste and they cannot tolerate anything that happens against their assumptions and thinking.
What can heal such incidents? It is a difficult situation here. It is not easy to think about forgiveness and love! Jesus’ prayer from the cross is a classic example to understand the event in a deeper sense. Jesus prayed – ‘Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing’. It is not that the tormentors do not know the pain and suffering of Jesus, but they do not know the implication of their actions and to whom they are doing it too. Likewise, when people exhibit their hate and intolerance the reality is that they do not know to whom they are doing it to and what will be the implication of their actions in the long run. Gladys Staines was able to forgive and show to the world that it is possible to be a model of Jesus because she did not see the event where her husband and their children were burnt alive only but she realised that the persecutors lost an angel of God and a social worker who lived for them – the implications were too deep than the actual event.
Love Divine All Excelling
Loving Lord, we live in a world of hate and intolerance. We are persecuted. They are doing more to us than what we can carry. Help us to understand and keep your new love commandment. AMEN.
Rev. A. Suresh Kumar
CSI Trichy-Tanjore Diocese