A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. John 13:34 (ESV)
Holy Thursday, today, is called Maundy Thursday from the Latin mandatum, or command. Jesus gave this new commandment. We are to love one another.
Increasingly, Americans hate one another. In the debate over shelter-in-place vs. going back to work, we are seeing another side of it. We are seeing two groups concerned about the welfare of Americans and deciding different approaches and increasingly hating those who take the different approach.
The one wants everyone to stay home to avoid getting sick and overwhelming hospitals. The other wants everyone who is able and without pre-existing conditions to go back to work lest the mental strain spike suicides and other bad effects. Both come from a position of loving their fellow man. The latter increasingly thinks the data and experts are wrong.
You can see how religious wars and denominationalism take hold. All sides care about the welfare of others. They all do actually have the same goal. But they are splitting apart at an ever more rapid pace with both attacking each other’s motives.
Not to make a political point, but I can already see this happening — by June, those who trust the models will argue they were wrong and rigged to make the President look good. Those now arguing they are flawed will argue that they were right all along and the President saved us.
Missing in all of these efforts to love one another is the effort to actually love one another. The two sides are yelling, pointing figures, casting doubts, trying to get each other fired, and suing the news organizations they don’t like.
I don’t really care whether you side with the stay-home crowd (I’m there) or with the go back to work crowd. But I do think we should try to understand the concerns of each. For those who cannot understand the go back to work crowd, consider the spike in suicides in South Georgia after more than a year of federal delays in disaster relief to get farmers back on their feet. For those who cannot understand the stay home crowd, go to an urban hospital and, if you can get inside, go inside.
These are not easy issues to navigate. What should be easy, though, is some basic understanding and love and grace.
We live in a post-truth age where we can all have our own truth and none of it be true. But there is truth out there and we need to go in search of it. Part of finding that truth is to admit when we are wrong and not condemn those who admit wrong. Part of it is growing a greater hesitancy to impute false motives and hurl accusations based on our preconceived notions of others.
A great part of it is to acknowledge we are all flawed.
Two thousand years ago tonight, a flawless, faultless man would sit with friends, break bread, wash their feet, and tell them to love. One of his friends would betray him and by this time tomorrow, he’d be headed towards a hill to his death. There are a lot of false accusations out there about people of faith, people in politics, and people in general. All of us are sinners. We are all going to screw up. There will be those who say we cannot stand, grow, or improve because of our past bad actions.
The question is if you are trying to be like Judas or Jesus. Because the one led to what he thought would be the downfall of another. The other turned his cheek, washed others’ feet, and saved a world. Be like that guy.
The Gospel of John is an eyewitness account of Jesus’s life. John, though, wrote it for a Greek audience in a Greek style. Greek styling of the time would often use two different people to contrast behavior. It is no coincidence that John sought to minimize himself in his own writing and so frequently put Peter juxtaposed with Judas.
Both Peter and Judas would betray Jesus. John provides us hope of our own redemption in Peter’s redemption. He shows our destruction in Judas’s destruction if we don’t choose to be more like Jesus.
Between the time you are reading this and sun up tomorrow, Peter would have socially distanced himself from Jesus, denied his messiah, and walked away. But some time later, he’d throw himself into the sea, swim to shore, and be greeted by the Creator of all things who had, of all things, cooked breakfast for his friends.
It was the third time Jesus had revealed himself to the disciples after the resurrection. Peter had denied the Christ three times and now the Christ, this third time, restores Peter, encourages him, and actually cooks him breakfast.
The story of Judas was no more. The story of Peter was just beginning. The beginning of that story is the beginning of a boldness to love. Nerves are fraying in America. No one is showing grace. No one is showing love. Again, be like Judas or be like Christ. To be like Christ is to be like Peter — to be a screw up who screws up but does not give up.
We can do better. Jesus expects us to. He commands us to. And he’s got this.