Love Your Enemies

  • Beyond the Golden Rule: Jesus Gives Us the Titanium Rule

    blogpic loving-the-way-jesus-lovesWhen I was a kid, I wondered why in Holy Week, we had a Monday Thursday. And if today is Monday Thursday, then why isn’t tomorrow Monday Friday and Easter, Monday Sunday? I thought Monday was the least favorite day of the week, so isn’t one Monday enough?

    It probably wasn’t until I was in seminary that I learned the name “Maundy Thursday” comes from the Latin word, Mandatum, which means “command.” Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment on Thursday of Holy Week, so it is Commandment Thursday, Mandatum Thursday, which has over time, has been compressed to Maundy Thursday.

    Theologian and historian Leonard Sweet, a professor at Drew Theological School, identifies different levels of human relationships (which are all named for metals) that lead up to the New Commandment that Jesus gives at his Last Supper:

    The first level of relationship is the Iron Rule—Do unto others before they do unto you

    We see this during Jesus’ time when those with the leprosy or other diseases were forced to be outcast. The religious laws banished them from the community because they were unclean. In fact they had to yell, “unclean, unclean” when walking near anyone so people could keep their distance. They would become unclean by touching an outcast, so they banished them first. We hear the Iron Rule in some of today’s political rhetoric that promises to prevent Muslims from coming into the country and to enact aggressive neighborhood surveillance of Muslim communities. Fear leads us to do unto others before they do unto us.

    The next level of relationship Sweet identifies is the Silver Rule--Do unto others as they do unto you.

    The Silver rule works well when everyone is operating positively and generating good will. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. It’s a transactional relationship that works until our fallible nature gets the better of us. Then it quickly becomes an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth which can lead to revenge and vigilantism. I think this is why we love movies like The Godfather which dramatize organized crime. There’s always an accounting of who did what to whom and who pays the price. The Silver Rule can also excuse us from ever taking initiative, offering a loophole for people who never want to make the first move. If we don’t trust others, we hang back, only responding to others based on how they treat us.

    Then we move up to the Golden Rule – and every major religion has a version of Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Treat others how you would like to be treated. We all learned this in elementary school, and I think we’re all the better for it. We hear the Golden Rule in Jesus’ summary of the two greatest commandments in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark: the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind, and your neighbor as yourself.

    We just visited Knox College in IL with our daughter earlier this week and one of the values there is the Honor Code. This allows students to take their tests anywhere they like—under a tree outside or in a study carrel in the library—without a professor present. This principle is based on the Golden Rule—the faculty invests in the students the same honor and trust the students accord them. There is a drawback to the Golden Rule, however—it’s limited by our own imagination. We have a hard time imagining people’s needs and desires when they fall outside of our own culture or experience. So the Golden Rule can break down, especially in cross-cultural situations. The way we like to be treated may not be appropriate in another cultural setting.

    So Leonard Sweet then identifies the Platinum Rule which says, Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.

    The Platinum rule requires investment in a real relationship and true listening. We have to get to know the person in order to understand what’s important to them, what they value and how to communicate on their wavelength. The Platinum Rule is something we all do everyday because it’s important in all healthy relationships, from friendship to marriage, to parent-child relationships to cross-cultural dialog.

    We hear Jesus do this very thing when Blind Bartimeus begs him for mercy in John, chapter 9. Jesus asks him, What would like for me to do for you? Jesus engages in relationship instead of making assumptions about what Bartimeus needs and wants. Asking this question, What do you need us to do? has been an important task of the Ferguson Commission that was set up in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death. In order to build a just society, we need to really listen to what African Americans, especially young men, are experiencing in our law enforcement and justice systems, most especially when it’s different from our own experience.

    Which brings us to today, Maundy Thursday, when Jesus ups the ante on all of our human relationships with a New Commandment.

    Leonard Sweet calls this the Titanium Rule. I give you a new commandment, says Jesus, 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)

    What does it mean to love as Jesus loves? To do unto others as Jesus has done to us?

    On this night Jesus eats his last meal before he dies. He invites his disciples and closest friends to celebrate the Passover meal with him. Try to imagine it.
    • Jesus knows Peter will deny him, not once, but 3 times.
    • Jesus understands that Judas will sell him out.
    • Jesus knows all of the disciples except John, his Mom and a few women will run away when he needs them most.
    • He’s facing a painful death knowing that most of the people he’s close to will abandon, deny and betray him.

    If it were your last meal on earth would you invite these so-called friends to join you? How do you face the most difficult and painful hardship of your life knowing everyone who’s close to you will fail you?

    Personally, I would want to ask them to leave before dessert, so I could take solace in the whole chocolate raspberry cheesecake. But, what does Jesus do? He invites them to share the bread, enjoy the wine, and eat their fill, dessert included. Jesus invests the last energy he has in nurturing relationships with fallible, broken, fearful people. And Jesus doesn’t stop there. He dives even deeper.

    Jesus not only shares a meal with them, Jesus kneels at their feet, takes the position of a slave—the lowest person on the very bottom rung of the social ladder, and he washes the feet of his fearful, fallible followers—the feet that will run away and abandon him. To love as Jesus loves is
    • to serve those who fail you,
    • to embrace the ones who hurt you,
    • to indulge the ones who don’t show up when you need them most.

    Loving our enemies is not enough. People will know that we are Jesus’ disciples when we serve and care for those who fail us. Maybe Monday Thursday is a good name for today because this may be our least favorite commandment.

    Imagine washing the feet of your nemesis, your political polar opposite, your ex-whatever- ex-friend, ex-spouse, ex-boyfriend. That’s the Titanium Rule that shows the world whom we follow. Others’ behavior has no bearing on our behavior and choices—choose love, choose service, and choose forgiveness regardless of how others act.

    How can we do this? There’s only one way. By coming to the table of the Lord's Supper where Jesus invites us to participate in his life, be filled with his love, partake of his body. Jesus says, this is my body, this is my blood – This is myself - I give you myself – I give you all that I am.

    And he already knows—he already knows that every one of us will abandon, deny and betray him in one way or another this week—yet he says, Come. Come to the table, let me serve you with my very life, let me love you, even and most especially your fallible, feeble, fearful souls. And then pass it on, pay it forward. Let someone see that I love them because you show up to serve, to love, to forgive. Jesus says, Love as I love you. Go from this meal and pass it on.

  • To Love As Jesus Love Us

    larger Jesus washing largeMessage for Palm Sunday on John 13:1-17,35 given on March 28, 2021 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas. This sermon and other worship services can be seen on YouTube. A congregational reading of the Passion did not work outdoors nor on video, so we made a transition to Holy Week by reading the footwashing story for the Gospel after the Palm Sunday procession.

    I remember when I was in middle school and I first heard the popular saying, “If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was.”

    It was the first time I began to understand that real love was not about possession, but rather about freedom. But if there was ever a night for Jesus to give up on “love as freedom” and engage in a little “love as possession,” I think the night before he died would have been a good choice. It would have been understandable if Jesus would have put the screws down on the disciples a little harder and said,

    “Look, I’m going to die tomorrow, and I need you to show up. I have given you my heart and soul, my prayers, my healing, my time, everything I’ve got. Now it’s all coming to a head tomorrow and the political and religious leaders are going to have my head. I need to know that you are with me. Peter, are you in? Matthew are you with me? James and John, can I count on you? Philip and Andrew, will you be there for me? Bartholomew and Thaddeus, will you stand with me? Thomas and James, Simon and Judas, are you in?”

    But he does not do it, does he? Instead, he instructs them to love one another as he has loved them, and he demonstrates what this love looks like as he wraps a towel around his waist, gets on his knees, and washes their feet.

    Their feet were already clean, actually—they were washed before they came into the house for supper. The roads were dusty, and their sandals were open, and nobody wanted all that dirt tracked into the house, so feet were washed upon entering, much like taking off our shoes at the door. Foot washing was usually done by a servant and if there was not a servant in the household, it was done, of course, by the woman of the household. In addition to an act of cleanliness, it was also an act of hospitality, warmth, welcome, and humble service, especially after a hard day’s work or a long journey.

    Because their feet had most likely already been cleaned, Jesus washed their feet, not to get the dust off, but as an act of love, an act of humility, an act of service. He got down on his knees, taking the form of a slave or serving them a like woman—talk about bending gender roles! Jesus offers hospitality, warmth, and welcome, love, and relationship as their time together comes to a close, shifting social and gender roles to demonstrate that true love is a life of service. Imagine the discomfort this might have caused these tough, hard-working, weather-worn men, especially James and John, the “sons of thunder”—to watch Jesus behave like female. Maybe they teased him, accusing him of “throwing like a girl,” or acting like a sissy. Certainly, Peter’s discomfort led him to argue with Jesus.

    But Jesus let them live with their discomfort of his gender-bending, socially upending role reversals and he persisted. On his knees, like slave, washing and rinsing, welcoming and cleaning, drying and loving, behaving like a subservient female.

    Judas sits down and Jesus washes the feet that will betray him. Peter sits down and Jesus washes the feet that will deny him. James and John, Andrew, Philip, and Matthew and all the rest, sit down and Jesus washes the feet that will run away and leave him to be scourged and nailed and killed alone. What is even more surprising than Jesus demonstrating true, deep, liberating love by behaving like a slave or a woman, is that Jesus washes all the feet that he will betray, deny and abandon him. Jesus knows they will all fail him, and he washes and loves them anyway.

    The night before death in our culture—if you know it is coming on death row—it’s all about the food, the last meal. Jesus does have a Last Supper with his disciples, but he spends so much time rinsing and rubbing 24 feet, 120 toes—all feet that will flee and leave him to journey to the cross alone.

    “If you love something, set it free…” Jesus loves them enough to wash their dirty souls and let them go… We all have the freedom to walk away.

    Judas does this first—he allows Jesus to wash his feet, and then he leaves and goes into the night—which is to say that he has turned toward evil. That is the worst betrayal of all—it was not turning Jesus over to the chief priests, but the worst betrayal is abandoning the relationship with Jesus. Judas is struggling with all kinds of things—fear, turmoil, greed—and in that suffering he turns away from Jesus instead of moving toward Jesus.

    The other disciples will walk away from the relationship with Jesus in one way or another, but Jesus will not walk away from them. That is why he gets on his knees and washes their feet. He will love and serve them like a slave, like a tireless woman to the end. When they are ready to return to him, he will be there. It may not be until Easter morn, but Jesus will always show up.

    Can we bear to receive that much love? Jesus kneels before you to wash your feet, all the while knowing we have failed Jesus, and will fail him again—not because we are bad people, but because we are human. And still, Jesus shows up and loves us, and kneels again at our feet, with warmth and love and welcome. With towel and water in hand, he announces, “I love you. I am here, and I will always be here—even when you walk away, I will be here when you come back.”

    Jesus will never betray his relationship with you,
    • no matter who you are,
    • no matter what you have done,
    • no matter what you have thought,
    • no matter how weak your faith feels
    • no matter whether or not you deserve it.

    Jesus gets on his knees as a servant and says, “I will not betray you. I will not deny you. I will not abandon you.”

    We can always come back. No matter what, we belong to Jesus.

    As we freely offer ourselves in relationship to Jesus, he fills us with the ability to love others as he loves us. This is what his commandment really means. To love others the way Jesus loves is to love those who betray, deny, and abandon us. On our own, such love is impossible. But through our relationship with Jesus, who will never betray, deny, or abandon us, we can love anyone and everyone through the power of Jesus’ love in us.

    "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.”

    Reflection Questions

    • How do gender and class roles today still define or limit ways of showing love or serving others? Are their ways to let go of these limiting definitions to enter lives of service that express the fullness of love that Jesus expresses in this passage?

    • When have you experienced love and forgiveness from someone after really screwing up? How did it feel? When have you loved and forgiven someone after they have really hurt you? What enabled the relationship to heal…or not?

    • What does it mean to you that Jesus always gives you the freedom to walk away, and the love to always to return to a relationship with him? How does this change your faith or how deep you are willing to go with him?

    • Is there someone you are struggling to love, forgive, or even tolerate right now? Can you bring this struggle to Jesus and ask for help—if not in loving them as he does yet, but in taking a first step, such as praying for them?

    • What is it you need from Jesus or from your faith the most this Holy Week? Ask boldly.

    Image: Paynter, David, 1900-1975. Jesus washing the disciples' feet, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved March 31, 2021