I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
— John 13:34-35
Love–perhaps no other word in the English language is as loaded or as complex or as lightly used. We throw it around almost as casually as we would a Frisbee; “I love chocolate,” “I love the ocean,” or “I love my dog.” Of course, we also claim just as readily to love our partner, our children, our parents, siblings, and, of course, Jesus. We humans are quite lavish with our proclamations of love.
Go ahead and Google the word. You’ll return some 126 million hits. That’s a whole lot of love. Why, you’d think with all that love out there floating around in our hearts and in cyberspace that this world would be quite a different sort of place. We ought to be able to create a world that’s consistent with Jesus’ mandate that we love one another, don’t you think?
Maybe that’s where the rubber hits the road (or the love starts to languish) because in the very next sentence Jesus says we are to love like he loved us. Gulp! This mandate doesn’t involve any cute red hearts or romantic notions. No, you and I both know Jesus is talking about something entirely different and oh so difficult.
Doesn’t Jesus’ kind of love mean we ought to be laying down our lives for each other instead of slinging bombs and hateful barbs at each other? Shouldn’t we be dining with sinners and consorting with foreigners and strangers? Aren’t we to be binding the wounds of our enemies and caring for them? Doesn’t Scripture say that we are to turn the cheek and share the cloak? Live in the world but not be of the world? Isn’t that how Jesus said we’ll be known as his disciples?
Yep, if Jesus’ brand of love is what really makes the world go ‘round we’re not talking carousels and cotton candy here. We’re talking about the hard nitty-gritty work of discipleship.
Think of Christian love as being something like the difference between a street beat cop and an undercover agent. The average Joe or Jane police officer wears a uniform that identifies him or her with a particular job. The identity of the undercover agent, on the other hand, is hidden. You might be waiting in line at the hot dog stand right next to an undercover police officer and never know it, never recognize that ordinary person who’s chowing down on a foot-long mustard-oozing dog as one who is charged with protecting you.
Seems to me a lot of times we Christians prefer to go undercover than walk around clearly identified for who and what we are. Trust me; I’m as guilty as the next disciple. Wearing our Christian love on our sleeve takes guts because a lot of people don’t think very much of us. We’ve developed a pretty bad rap in a lot of the world’s circles as intolerant, bigoted hypocrites. Ouch!
Being an undercover Christian lover is so much easier. We can save the best of ourselves for the ones who are easy to love, and we can go on hating those who are different and threatening. We can take off our disguise in the comfortable company of our worshipping communities for an hour or two each week before heading back into the world disguised in plain sight.
Here’s the thing: it’s easy to be a concealed Christian, an undercover lover, loving in ways that are comfortable for you and for me. It’s easy to sing the old hymn “I love to tell the Story” when everyone else knows the story and lukewarm is the temperature of the day.
Jesus asks–no commands–more of his disciples. Of course it’s not easy because it runs counter to all that the world is about. Yes, we will fail miserably at times, but that reality doesn’t get any of us off the hook. Like my mama often says, “If it was easy, everybody would be doing it.”
The good news is that it is possible to love like we’re called to love because we have the Holy Spirit with us. So take off that invisible love-hiding trench coat and let your love show. Jesus wants us to blow our cover, take risks, and let the world see to whom we belong.