05/17/20 – The Paradox of Love

The Paradox of Love

May 17, 2020
6th Sunday of Easter
1 Peter 3: 8-22; John 14:15-21
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones


I have noticed an increase in revenge stories appearing in my social media feed. The stories are meant to elicit a feeling of Schadenfreude. If you are not familiar with that German word, it translates as “being happy about another’s misfortune. These stories appeal to our sense of self-righteous indignation. The villains include such as a greedy landlord who takes advantage of a tenant, an inconsiderate neighbor, or a rude client, who then get their comeuppance from one of their clever victims. My amateur analysis is that in a time when we feel persecuted by a situation beyond our control, we like to hear stories about victims taking control and delivering what appears to be justice. We are also influenced by a lowered threshold for what is deemed acceptable public discourse.

The author of our epistle reading for today, in a previous passage, gave us this charge:

8Finally, all have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a
humble mind. 9Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary,
repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a
blessing. 10For “Those who desire life and desire to see good days, let them keep their
tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit; 11let them turn away from evil
and do good; let them seek peace and pursue it.”   1 Peter 3:8-11

The Apostle Paul gives a similar charge in Romans 12 – the famous verses often used as a charge before the benediction in Christian worship services. It begins 9Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.” Paul sets his charge upon a foundation of love.

The bible tells us God is concerned about justice, but God’s justice is driven by love and tempered with mercy. G.K. Chesterton, the early 20th century English writer, philosopher, and theologian noted: “The bible tells us to love our neighbors. It also says to love our enemies because usually, they are the same people.” No wonder Chesterton was known as the poet of paradox. No wonder he found the bible and the practice of religion to be such an interesting subject. Chesterton is also famous for saying: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

Our gospel reading for today is a part of Jesus’ long farewell conversation in the Upper Room after the Last Supper. Known as the “Farewell Discourse, it begins after Judas leaves the room to go to the temple to betray Jesus. This speech continues for four chapters. Jesus told his disciples he would be leaving them physically but promises to continue to be with them in Spirit. This is very frightening and confusing for the disciples. Their first thought is: ‘Is this the end? Jesus’ answer is a paradoxical yes and no. Yes, he would be leaving them, but no, the mission was not ending, because they would continue it.’ The disciples were confused. They had not signed on to be leaders, just followers. Jesus was asking them for a commitment they did not want nor felt qualified to carry out.

Jesus explains that the ministry of love that bound them together as a community of faith was not ending. We read this passage during the Easter season, which follows Easter Day, because we too fall into the trap of thinking we are finished with Easter when in fact the Resurrection is the beginning. Jesus promised to send his first disciples aid from his Father.  He spoke words of relationship: “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. The word “orphaned” struck me as I read this passage. One of the greatest fears I have heard expressed during this global pandemic is the fear of dying alone. Pictures of dying patients holding the gloved hand of a health care worker, who is hidden behind layers of protective gear, are heart-wrenching. And these are the lucky ones. Others have died with no one besides their deathbed. Christ’s promise of continued presence is both comforting and encouraging.

John tells us Jesus promised to send a “paracletus,” which is a nuanced Greek word that does not have an exact counterpart in English. Although it was translated as “Comforter” in the old King James Bible, the closest English word is more likely, “Advocate” or “Counselor.” These were legal terms in the first century Roman Empire. When someone was called to court to answer to charges, they would bring an “advocate” with them to attest to their innocence and good character. These terms, “advocate” or “counselor” meant “being with” or “defender,” “the one who intercedes for.” Jesus was leaving the disciples to be with God, but God was going to send to us our own Counselor who will advise us on the truth.

Another frequently used word in John’s gospel is love. Here Jesus gives his disciples that most difficult assignment, his Love Commandment: Love others as I have loved you. The kind of love Jesus is talking about here is hard. The word is agape, love that seeks nothing for the lover but instead seeks only to help the loved one. When it involves our enemies, the ones we fear or do not like, love seems an impossible commandment to fulfill. He even ups the ante by saying: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” What were they? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind; and the second is like unto it – you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

In another place in Jesus’ Farewell Discourse in John, he says:

“Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this
everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.”

How do we even begin to love others in the way Christ has loved us? We are mistaken if we hear his words as a task to be accomplished. Jesus was giving us a gospel word, Good News, a promise, not a law or judgment. Taking John’s gospel as a whole, loving one another means acting like God’s child, not the emperor or anyone else you might be tempted to follow. When we see others as children of God, love will become a part of our being in the world. The more we love, the more our capacity to love grows because Christ is “abiding” (to use one of John’s favorite words) in us.

In this time of fear and uncertainty for our future, of ideological division and physical separation, we are called to “agape” love — to bless not curse and to give rather than take. The paradox of love is the more we give of ourselves in love, the more love flows back to us. Christ promises this kind of love is transformative for us and the world in which we live.

Thanks be to God. Amen.


© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2020, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church | 1420 W. Moss Avenue | Peoria, Illinois 61606
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