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New Then, New Now
May 24, 1992

JOHN 13:31-35

On TV I watched another home-made video on the Los Angeles riots. Since the infamous Rodney King video, aspiring movie makers are carrying their cameras to the streets. The video I watched showed a mob beating an innocent bystander. I wonder what would happen if the media and video buffs would help the victims instead of photographing them! Anyway, the video showed a helpless man being cruelly beaten by a mob. Then, suddenly a new figure appeared and the mob backed off. The new figure was a black man, a minister dressed in a dark suit, wearing a clergy collar and carrying a Bible. He evidently draped himself over the victim to intercept the blows the victim was receiving. The mob retreated. The newscast then showed the minister meeting the man he had saved, and his wife and children. The newscaster asked the minister why, at great personal risk, he had intervened. The minister answered with one word, "love".

Last week in Jerusalem, Bella Freund, an ultra-orthodox Jew, threw herself on an Arab man who was being held on the ground surrounded by an angry mob bent on vengeance. She did not want be a murder so she protected the Arab. The young Arab man had pulled a knife, stabbed and slightly wounded a 13-year-old Jewish boy. Bella was called a heroine by some and a leftist by others. The Jewish boy's mother was especially angry at Bella for protecting her son's assailant. Bella defended her action by saying, "We must not take the law into our own hands." The chief rabbi justified her deed. Bella said her action sprung from her upbringing. Her parents survived the Nazi Holocaust, and she was raised to believe the highest value is human life.

The word "love" was not used in the newspaper article describing Bella's bravery, but her act and the minister's act in Los Angeles are graphic, vivid examples of what Jesus called the new commandment. Among Jesus' last words to his disciples on the eve of his death, according to the Gospel of John, are these words, John 13:34, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another."

It was a new commandment then, it is new now. Relatively untried, a new phenomenon on the face of the earth is "love one another." Especially people you don't even know, like the minister and Bella Freund, especially your enemies as Bella, an ultra-orthodox Jew,rescued an Arab, "love one another" is a radical commandment. It was new then, it is new now. And, desperately needed. "What the world needs now is love, sweet love; it's the only thing that there's just too little of," goes the song.

In a way, it's too bad the English language does not give us a more adequate word than "love". Our word for love covers too much territory. We love to use the word love. We love our wife or husband. We love our children. We love our friends. We love movie stars. We love ice cream. We use love when we mean infatuation. We use love when we mean like. We use love when we mean sexual attraction and gratification. We use love when we mean butterflies in the stomach. We use love when we mean a strong feeling or emotion.

What Jesus meant by the word which is translated "love" in English is none of the above! What Jesus meant by "love" is not how we use the word at all! When the minister in Los Angeles said his motivation in rescuing the victim was "love", he meant what Jesus meant by love and not what we popularly call love. He didn't even know the victim. He had no strong feeling of friendship for the man. There was no attraction involved.

Because our English language is deficient, perhaps it would be helpful if we used the term "Jesus love" when we talk about loving one another as Jesus commanded. The minister acted out of "Jesus love." Bella did too, but as a Jew, wouldn't use the term "Jesus love." "Jesus love" is not confined to those who follow Jesus. The love of God is wider than Christianity, and not limited to Christianity, thank God! Christians have hardly been shining examples of "Jesus love."

An older term is "brotherly love" but, besides leaving out 1/2 of the human race, brotherly love still doesn't convey what we mean. What we mean is "Jesus love," loving one another as Jesus loves us. Jesus commanded, "As I have loved you, so you love one another." "Jesus love" is the kind of love Jesus lived and modeled. "Jesus love" is not limited to Jesus or his followers. Jesus didn't invent it; he lived it.

How did Jesus love the disciples, and how does Jesus love us? Look at the cross. By laying down his life for us. By putting the needs of humankind above his own life. By being more concerned about others than himself. The Los Angeles minister and Bella Freund in Jerusalem exemplified "Jesus love" by putting concern over the victims who were being beaten ahead of their personal safety. They risked physical harm. They risked their lives. They loved.

"Jesus love" is not an emotion. "Jesus love" is not a feeling. "Jesus love" is an action. "Jesus love" is not good intentions. "Jesus love" is an action. "Jesus love" is not feeling good all over. "Jesus love" is action; generous, unselfish action directed to the good of others. "Jesus love" is acting on behalf of someone else, rather than putting yourself first. "Jesus love" is putting the welfare of others ahead of your moods, feelings, and self-pity. "Jesus love" is acting in a manner where your pride is set aside within the context of forgiveness.

Because "Jesus love" is an action, it can be commanded. At first reading, the reaction may well be, "How can love be commanded?" Can someone command you to love so and so, so you will marry him/her? The emotion love cannot be commanded, but "Jesus love" can be commanded. You can make yourself express "Jesus love" because your mind, your will, can command your body to act. Feelings, if any are involved, will follow. "Jesus love" does not begin with feeling, but it may end with feeling.

In northern Israel, near Haifa, is a Christian Arab village. When Father Elias was first sent to the village to be the priest, he found a demoralized community. There was no library or community center. The church was falling down and the small congregation was in no better condition than the deteriorating building and village. The division that existed in the church, and ran through the community as well, was a division between four brothers. Even the death of their mother had not brought them together. The hurt and alienation were deep.

After Father Elias had been there a few months, on Palm Sunday, he looked out at his congregation, saw the four brothers and their followers sitting in four separate locations in the sanctuary. The hymns were sung without any spirit. The sermon was received indifferently as usual. But, before the service ended, Father Elias found himself doing something he had not planned or anticipated. He walked to the back of the church, padlocked the door, returned to the front of the church and commanded them to love, to love one another as Jesus loved them. He preached spontaneously,

Sitting in this building does not make you a Christian. You are a people divided. You argue and hate each other...If you can't love your brother whom you see, how can you say you love God who is invisible? You have allowed the Body of Christ to be disgraced. I have tried for months to unite you. I have failed. I am only a man. But there is someone who can bring you together in true unity. His name is Jesus. He has the power to forgive you. So now I will be quiet and allow him to give you the power to love one another. If you will not forgive one another, then we stay locked in here. If you want, you can kill each other, and I'll do your funerals gratis.

With that he sat down. There was dead silence. Ten minutes passed, but for Father Elias they seemed like hours. At last one of the brothers stood up, faced the congregation, bowed his head and said, "I am sorry. I am the worst of all. I have hated my own brothers. More than any of you, I need forgiveness." He turned to the priest and said, "Can you forgive me?" Father Elias embraced him with the kiss of peace, and said, "Now go and greet your brothers." The four brothers rushed together, meeting halfway down the aisle, and in tears forgave each other. In an instant the entire church erupted in a chaos of embracing and repentance.

Today the congregation and village are thriving. They have built a regional high school, opened a community center, and established a large library. All because the congregation began to love one another. They were commanded to do so. Through the unselfish act of forgiveness, they were reconciled to God and one another, and the feeling of joy followed.

"Jesus love" is an action, where the needs and welfare of others are seen as more important than one's own needs; more important than hurt feelings, grudges, and getting one's own way; more important even than one's own safety. What the world needs now is love, "Jesus love"; a new commandment; new then, new now.

© 1992 Douglas I. Norris