May 6, 2018
John 15: 9-17
Scripture: John 15: 9-17 (reader)
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
Reading this passage over and over again, this is the instruction that jumped off the page at me, the one that kept running around in my head all week. How did Jesus show his love for those disciples who had given up the lives they knew to follow him? What did he teach them about love through his sermons and parables, and most importantly, about his actions. What kind of love is he talking about? How are we to love each other today as Jesus loved?
For Jesus, loving was a way of life. His love was totally inclusive - not reserved for those he called friends. His love poured out on those his society shunned: a Samaritan woman at a well in a country other Jews avoided traveling through, a hated tax collector, lepers, those who were ill and possessed by demons, women of ill repute. He ate with those tax collectors and sinners. “I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” - and with those Pharisees and Scribes who he often disagreed with.
“Love your enemies,” he told them, “pray for those who persecute you.”
We’re told, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them.” For Jesus, to love began with compassion for those in need. But it didn’t stop there. He reached out to alleviate that need - whether it’s filling empty stomachs on a hillside, reaching out and touching a leper, or restoring life to a centurions’ servant.
He was a healer - his was a mission to make people whole, not only in body, but in mind and spirit. He sent his disciples ‘on the road’ to “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” He gave to others without payment and instructed them to do likewise. His parable of the Good Samaritan drives home this point.
To love like Jesus was to break laws that he saw as unjust - driving money changers out of the temple - curing the sick on the sabbath. He spoke truth to power. Righteous anger is a form of love. So is what we call tough love. “In everything do to others as you could have them do to you.”
Loving like Jesus requires one to be humble, fearless, and generous - even to the undeserving, to show hospitality - even to the stranger.
It was a non-judgmental love that did not repay a wrong with another wrong, that frowned on vengeance. When a woman was brought to him who was to be stoned for committing adultery (which was the law), he challenged the crowd: “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” That dispersed the crowd.
To love like Jesus was to forgive - “not seven times, but seventy-seven times. Another of his most beloved parables, The Prodigal Son, was all about forgiving.
This is the kind of love that threatened the authorities by defying unjust laws and the cultural norms of his time - that held them up to the greatest commandment to love God and your neighbor as yourself. It’s the kind of love that led him to a cross where Luke has him saying: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”
It’s a demanding, radical kind of love - a love that must have grown out of his quiet, alone times with God, listening and filling himself with God’s love, then giving it away so he could fill himself more. Loving like Jesus is a spiritual practice.
There have been individuals throughout history who have practiced this kind of love, most of whom we have never heard about. I was introduced to one by my nephew, who gave me a book for Christmas entitled “Barking to the Choir” by the Jesuit priest Gregory Boyle. Then I had the privilege of hearing him speak when I was on retreat at Glastonbury Abbey before Easter.
He was born and raised in the gang capital of the world, Los Angeles, home to 1,100 gangs with 86,000 members - the population of Newton. In 1986 he became the pastor at Delores Mission Church, the poorest parish in the archdiocese of L.A.. He buried his first gang member in 1988, and has since buried over 220. Imagine adding that to your resume.
That same year he began what would become Homeboy Industries, the largest gang-intervention program in the world, where thousands have come looking for a way out of gang life - many fresh out of prison - seeking employment, tattoo removal (they do over 4,000 a year), mental health counseling, case management, legal services, drug and alcohol rehab - all free of charge.
They bring rival gang members together to run 9 social enterprises: Homeboy Bakery, Homegirl Cafe and Catering, Silkscreen and embroidery, tattoo removal, Homegirl and Homeboy Merchandising, Homeboy Maintenance, Homeboy Diner (the only place to buy food in LA City Hall), Homeboy Cafe located at LA International Airport, Homeboy Grocery and Homeboy Recycling.
Fr. Boyle calls it a worksite and therapeutic community, where they are put to work, and when they are ready, helped to find work in the private sector.
“It’s become the United Nations of gangs.”
Boyle writes: “I’d like to think that if Jesus had more time on this earth, he might well have explored the entrepreneurial. Maybe a clothing line: the Leper Colony, or the Tax Collector’s Cafe, or the Ritually Impure Maintenance Crew.” This priest has a sense of humor!
“Beyond cure and healing, Jesus was always hopeful about widening the circle of compassion and dismantling the barriers that exclude. He stood with the sinner, the leper, and the ritually impure to usher in some new remarkable inclusion, the very kinship of God.”
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” During his 34 years as a Jesuit priest Fr. Boyle has loved as Jesus loved. As well as his hands on ministry at Homeboy Industries, he celebrates mass in 25 detention centers; juvenile halls, probation camps, and youth authority facilities. He travels around the world giving over 200 talks a year.
“I was asked once during a Q and A in Australia, ‘When do you introduce Christ to the gang member?’ I found myself saying, “Never, and immediately.” The second any of us engage and enter into relationship with those on the margins, the Christ encounter is alive and well. After all, I don’t bring gang members to Christ, I always say. They bring me to Christ.” … The invitation for the Christ in me is to see the Christ in you.”
If God is still speaking, and I believe God is, then Fr. Boyle’s two books, Tattoos on the Heart and Barking at the Choir are books of parables for the 21st Century - stories of suffering and dignity, death and resurrection, faith and compassion. And he tells them with an amazing sense of humor.
They’re success stories: of “Sergio, arrested at nine, in a gang by twelve, and serving time shortly thereafter, who now works with the substance-abuse team at Homeboy to help others find sobriety.
And Jamal, abandoned by his family when he tried to attend school at age seven, who gradually finds forgiveness for his schizophrenic mother.
And new father Cuco, who never knew his own dad, and thinks of a daily adventure on which to take his four-year-old son. These are stories that uplift the soul and reveal how bright life can be when filled with unconditional love and kindness” - loving like Jesus.
I was so moved by his talk that I bought the CD and would love to share it with anyone interested in an uplifting, joyous evening. Maybe we could listen over a potluck dinner. I also have both of his books.
I will never be a Fr. Boyle. So then the question is: How do we love each other today, here in Newton, as Jesus loved? To look for answers I was drawn to a little book of wisdom I bought years ago while on retreat. I call it a 21st Century Book of Proverbs. It’s called The Caring Heart, by Arlene Stepputat. I want to end by sharing with you her simple words of wisdom and truth. I’ve added the beautiful paintings by Megan Forbes. As you listen, remember the words and actions of Jesus who commanded us to love one another as he loves us.
The caring heart is a simple one. It is open and it is clear. Complexities have fallen away. The caring heart awaits the opportunities to serve.
The caring heart listens. There are many distractions in the world and many voices calling. The voice of inner direction is the one to hear, but it is often the softest.
To hear the inner calling and the answers to life’s questions, the caring heart remains still and waits.
The caring heart has faith and its patience is its strength.
The caring heart is a vessel for love. Compassion fills it.
The caring heart has forgiveness for the past and thus healing for the present.
Letting in the healing power of giving and receiving is where the transformation begins.
The caring heart takes action willingly. It reaches out where pain exists and bears witness. It supports. It does not ask why. It simply does whatever is necessary.
The caring heart is courageous. It stands strong in the face of danger or ridicule or judgement.
The caring heart remains vulnerable, even at the risk of being broken.
The caring heart is committed to making the vision a reality.
The caring heart is free of judgement. It is not concerned with answering all the whys but with discovering all the ways.
The caring heart seeks unity and does not recognize division.
Because the caring heart lives in love’s wisdom, it remembers its source. At the core of the caring heart is a flame that also burns in every other heart on the planet.
The caring heart is driven by the power of that connection.
The caring heart recognizes and serves truth.
Inside each one of us is a caring heart. Finding, acknowledging and living from it is the beginning.
When each one of us lives in our own caring heart, we are open, clear, compassionate and united. We seek out opportunities to serve one another in loving. And that makes all the difference.