In the gospel today Jesus cuts right across the modern Western tendency to oppose Love and Law, Law and Joy. Though we oppose them, Jesus joins all three concepts and summons us to a new attitude. Lets take a look.
I. Connections – Jesus says, As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father”s commandments and remain in his love.” “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete.
Note here how the Lord joins three concepts: Love, Law and Joy. This precisely the opposite of what western culture does. The best that Western culture will admit of Law is that it is a necessary evil. While this is the best assessment of it, the more routine assessment is that law is somehow an unloving imposition by the powerful upon the unpowerful, by the hierarchy on the laity, by the (evil, unloving, oppressive, Pharisaical, etc.) Church on decent people.
But whereas the modern world severs law and love, Jesus links them. How do we both experience and show love? Jesus says, we do so by the keeping of the commandments. Jesus sets forth a vision whereby we, having experienced God’s love, desire and rejoice in his commands. We also show love to the Lord, by this very obedience and joyful adherence to his commands. And this loving obedience goes even further by setting forth an abundant joy, by the very keeping of those commands.
Again, this goes completely contrary to modern notions that sever joy from law and oppose them, and that describe God’s love abstractly, and separate from his love. The loving God is somehow “nice” and makes no demands, sets no limits. The “loving” God, according to the world, has few or no rules, he affirms, encourages, accepts, and includes. Or this is the thinking.
But the real Jesus is far more complex. He is surely loving, especially of sinners, he encourages, includes the outcast, and so forth. Be he also speaks of sin and rebukes it. He embraces the sinner, but says, “sin no more.” He lays forth a demanding moral vision, even as he shows mercy. In this Gospel, Jesus joins love and law, and says the law brings joy. They are not opposed, they are not either/or, they are both/and.
Yet the modern world insists that love and law are at opposite poles. Consider the remarks of President Obama on Wednesday, describing his reasons for embracing so called gay “marriage.”
…In the end the values that I care most deeply about and she [Michele] cares most deeply about is how we treat other people and, you know, I, you know, we are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated. And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids and that’s what motivates me….
To be fair to the President, his remarks are a bit difficult to interpret absolutely, he is speaking off the cuff rather than reading prepared remarks. But that said, he (wrongly) affirms Gay “marriage” by, in essence, evoking just the flawed polarity we have been critiquing. It would seem he is saying that, “Jesus was a pleasant sort of fellow, who loved every one, and all these rules (about sexuality and other things) cannot possibly have come from him. He was an affirmer, an inclusive Messiah who befriended the outcast etc, et al… All he really cared about is that we treat each other nicely, and just as we would never want to be upset, we should not upset or offend anyone by what we say or do.
Now, all these things have some truth. But the fact remains that Jesus was a lot more complex and diverse than just the affirmer in chief who went about saying pleasant things. In fact he often held many very contrary things in tension and balance.
Consider the following portrait from Ross Douthat in his recent book:
Christianity is a paradoxical religion because the Jew of Nazareth is a paradoxical character. No figure in history or fiction contains as many multitudes as the New Testament’s Jesus. He’s a celibate ascetic who enjoys dining with publicans and changing water into wine at weddings. He’s an apocalyptic prophet one moment, a [careful and] wise ethicist the next….He promises to set [spouses and one another and] parents against children, and then disallows divorce; he consorts with prostitutes while denouncing even lustful thoughts….He can be egalitarian and hierarchical, gentle and impatient, extraordinarily charitable and extraordinarily judgmental. He sets impossible standards and then forgives the worst of sinners. He blesses the peacemakers and then promises that he’s brought not peace but the sword. He’s superhuman one moment; the next he’s weeping….
Douthat goes on to conclude:
The boast of Christian orthodoxy, as codified by the councils of the early Church and expounded in the Creeds, has always been its fidelity to the whole of Jesus…..[Where heresy says which one] Both, says orthodoxy….The goal of the great heresies, on the other hand, has often been to extract from the tensions of the gospel narratives a more consistent, streamlined, and noncontradictory Jesus. .
Again note, in this Gospel, how Jesus joins Love, law and joy. This is paradoxical in modern terms, but true in gospel terms. For the president to merely appeal to “love” and the “golden rule” is to appeal to Jesus in an incomplete and “choosey” way.
The fact is, the real Jesus, and the apostles whom he inspired to write the Gospels AND the epistles, opposes Homosexual activity (Rom 1:18ff; 1 Cor 6:6-9; 1 Tim 1:8-11; Lev 18:22; Lev 20:13; Gen 19 inter al.), as well as illicit heterosexual activity (cf Eph 5:5-7; Gal 5:16-21; Rev 21:5-8; Rev. 22:14-16; Mt. 15:19-20; 1 Cor 6:9-20; Col 3:5-6; 1 Thess 4:1-8; 1 Tim 1:8-11; Heb 13:4). He and his inspired apostles and prophets say so plainly, and these authors, apostles and prophets, do so in love.
We do not have time here to set for the whole teaching on homosexual and heterosexual sins. You can read more here: Biblical Teaching on Homosexual Activity.
The point here is to accept that Jesus, who is love, does not hesitate to teach on many moral topics and warn sinners of judgment. He both personally, and through his inspired apostles, does not fail to speak with clarity on anger, greed, malice, neglect of the poor, divorce, fornication, adultery, impure thoughts, homosexual acts, lack of faith, revenge, dishonesty, the sin of human respect, false and worldly priorities, and the list could go on.
It is simply false to say as the President implies and others say that Jesus is love, and the Golden rule of “be nice” is all that is required. Jesus’ love is more encompassing than moral abstractions and generalities. Such diminished notions of Jesus and the Gospel exist on the right as well in concepts such as the prosperity gospel, and often unquestioning notions of going quickly to war etc.
Not only does Jesus link love to the keeping of the commandments in this text he also says the keeping of the commandments leads to joy.
Of this, I am a witness. God’s law gives joy to my heart. Regarding sexuality, as a priest, I live as a celibate, like Jesus, and my life is very fulfilling. I have been faithful to my celibate commitment without fail as a priest. I have not strayed from proper boundaries, I do not look at pornography, I am not in any way sexually active with women or anyone. In all this I am not repressed, I am not sad or lonely. My life is joyful, I am fulfilled and see my celibacy as a gift. To those who cannot marry, whether because they are homosexual, or young, or have not met the right person, I say God can and still does bless you. Living celibately is fulfilling, and joyful for those who are temporarily and/or permanently called to it.
The Church cannot and will not affirm either Gay “marriage”, homosexual acts or illicit heterosexual acts. In so doing we are not any more unloving, repressed, or sad than Jesus (who is none of these things). Neither can we affirm any other acts or attitudes that the Bible calls sinful. These things are all said and taught in love, and they bring joy to those who will accept them.
The Lord is no liar, and he promises that love, his commandments, and joy are all interrelated. I am a witness that this is true. Thus, note the connection between love, law and joy.
II. The Core – The Lord says, This is my commandment, Love one another as I have loved you. While it is true that the Church, and all of us as individuals, must speak the truth, we must speak it in love. We are not out to win an argument, to overpower, or to merely criticize. We are out to love. It is not helpful, and quite likely harmful, to correct people we do not first love.
Hence the Lord’s command to love one another is at the core of any preaching or teaching task. There are many today who declare that they do not experience love from the Church, only “denunciations.” It is a hard thing for the Church to convey to a large number, to a nation, or to a culture, our love. But to the degree we have failed to convey it, or even have failed to have that love we must repent, and strive ever more to both have love, and express it.
That said, the mere fact that we announce God’s law and summon others to it does not make us unloving. There is no doubt that some will take offense, no matter what we say or how we say it. But the anger or hurt of others does not always mean we have done or said something wrong. Jesus, who was sinless, offended many and was a sign of contradiction, then, even as he is now.
But for the Church we must never fail to ask for a deepening love, even for those who hate us, misunderstand us and misrepresent us. The core of Jesus’ teach is “Love one another.”
Jesus goes so far as to say that we must be willing to endure martyrdom in order to lovingly speak the truth to others. He says, No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Are you and I willing to endure hatred, being spit upon, laughed at, being called hateful, bigoted and homophobic, backward, repressed, intolerant and so forth, so that others can hear the truth? Jesus was willing, because he had the kind of love to stay in the conversation, even when many (not all) hated him. What are you willing to bear to proclaim the truth in love?
III. Camaraderie – Jesus also links knowledge of his law to friendship. He says, You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.
Note too another connection Jesus makes that the modern world rarely does. The world thinks of rules and laws and commandments in terms of slavery and subservience. But Jesus links these to friendship. A friend knows what his friend is about, and gladly seeks to understand and support him. Scripture says, Happy are we. O Israel, for what pleases God is known to us (Baruch 4:4)
Yes, true friendship seeks to know and understand the friend and to accomplish what is important to ones friend. Many today call themselves the friend of Jesus, but they give him little more than lip service. A true friend of Jesus is delighted to know his will and accomplish it.
IV. Call – Jesus says, It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another.” And thus, in the final lines, we are reminded that the Lord who has chosen us can and will equip us to live his law, to bear fruit in the keeping of the commandments, to be someone the Father can trust with blessings.
To be rebellious and resentful is to be untrustworthy of further blessings. But here again the Lord stresses, the keeping of the commandments is linked to love, and to further blessings.
The commandments bring joy, they are rooted in love and bring blessings. Do you believe this? or will you accept the worldly thinking that opposes love and law, law and joy, law and friendship? The choice is yours, but as for me, I am already a witness that the law is love, it is joy, it is friendship. Yes, I am a witness. How about you?
This song rejoices in the Light of Jesus, the clear Sun (Son) of Righteousness who shows the way to the way to the Father: