Lectionary Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Easter
April 29, 2012
. . . and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. — 1 John 3:22
Whatever we ask we receive. Isn’t that what the words say? Well, yes, but if you take only that little twitterish sound bite, you miss the entire point of the passage. If you take only those few words, you might as well be describing God as driving some heavenly-pie-in-the-sky ice cream truck through your neighborhood dispensing treats to the kiddos. No, the author of this epistle is not preaching an easy prosperity gospel designed to appeal to arm chair disciples. This preacher is talking about sacrificial love and stewardship.
That lovely subordinating conjunction “because” links the two parts of the sentence and provides a cause and effect relationship between the two ideas. So, yes, there is a “catch” to the idea that we receive from God whatever we ask. The catch is that we receive whatever we ask because we are in line with God’s will. A disciple who follows the will and way of God will not ask selfishly to please him or herself, and will not treat the Divine One as a genie in a liturgical bottle.
The whole idea behind this week’s reading from 1 John, and indeed the entire book, is that in the sacrificial love of Christ we see and experience God; in doing so we are compelled to live out that love in word and deed. The evangelist makes it clear, “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us–and we ought to lay down our lives for one another” (vs. 16). There is a wonderful mutuality at play here, a cause and effect that produces quite an effect.
God’s love is made real in Jesus and in the way the Son of God lives and loves, in fact loving us to death and beyond. This is powerful, heady stuff, this kind of love. It is not an “I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine” kind of affair; this is love poured out without regard to the cost. This is love that demands no return and love that will not let a needy sister or brother go without help. This is the kind of love practiced by Mother Teresa, by St. Augustine, by countless missionaries and servant leaders, and by ordinary disciples like you and me.
What does it mean to lay down our lives for another? We may never be called to give up our physical lives for others, but it might happen. We are called to put our own wants aside to do what we can to meet the needs of others, to share the burden, to alleviate pain and suffering when and where we can. It means looking at one’s glass as always full enough to share, as being content with enough and not hoarding our time, our talents, or our possessions.
To lay down our lives for one another means that as we live in community we work at the hard parts of being together and staying together. It may mean that we “shut up and put up” for the good of the body. It might mean taking the back seat and letting someone else drive for awhile. We don’t pack up our little red wagons and go home at the first sign of discord or at the expense of our neighbor.
God loves us pure and simple, flaws and all, and it is this gracious love that frees us to love others. This knowledge of God’s love and grace, if we allow it, can so fill us that we are able to pour ourselves out for others without worrying that there won’t be enough love (or anything else, for that matter) left for us.
Yes, there is a catch. The catch is love, and it is highly infectious. Once we truly experience the love of God in Christ Jesus, we are compelled to spread it however imperfectly, in thought, word, and deed. Go fellow disciples; live in lavish love, pouring yourselves out for one another for the sake of the gospel. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.