Perhaps the most dramatic scene in the Lord of the Rings is when Minas Tirith’s gates have been broken. They’re fighting in the streets of the city, things are at their darkest, all seems lost, and in the distance, the horns of the North are heard. The Rohirrim have arrived, and their presence turns the tide.
Why were they there? If you read the backstory, they were a nomadic people looking for a home that came into Gondor’s territory, and helped them in battle against the Dark forces. Part of the Kingdom was very lightly settled, and Gondor offered the Rohirrim land in exchange for their help in time of need. This is why the riders came: they owed their homeland to Gondor. Obligation brought them; gratitude for what they had brought them.
This reading is part of the Last Discourse in the Gospel of John: the portion where Jesus is teaching his disciples at the Last Supper about the Kingdom of God and how they are to live with one another. Judas has just left the room, so the atmosphere is one of foreboding: we know what’s going to happen next. Toward the beginning of that discourse comes today’s reading. Jesus’ coming passion and death is the beginning of the glorification of his resurrection. In this time, Jesus gives his final thoughts, and the beginning is striking: Love one another.
This is very remarkable. With this simple statement, Jesus has just condensed the Ten Commandments. If we think back over them, if we love one another won’t consider dishonesty, theft, envy, adultery, murder; we won’t covet what someone else has, whether it is material things or relationships. This is more than learning to share our toys with our brothers and sisters; this is a spirituality of care. With this statement, Jesus has also set the standard for discipleship: “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
This isn’t an easy standard to live up to. One of the first things we want to do with this saying is to figure out ways to limit it. This is only meant for believers: this doesn’t apply to non-Christians, or non-Catholics. This is only for people that we are close to. This is only for family, after all, if you’re not family, you’re not included. This doesn’t apply to folks who are criminals, or homeless or disabled, they aren’t one of us and they’re only getting what they deserve. We don’t need to get in the way of people receiving their just deserts.
But Jesus isn’t qualifying this. Love one another as I have loved you. Judas has chosen to walk away from that, but is he left out? I don’t think so. The standard is to push the boundaries of family outward. It doesn’t mean we have to be silly or impractical. It doesn’t mean we have to put on blinders to how the world really is, or to what people are really like. It is about how we act, what our attitudes are, how we see people.
Love one another as I have loved you doesn’t mean that you’re a pushover, either. Sometime Mom shows us how much she loves us by saying no to what we’re asking for. Sometimes we love one another as Jesus loved us by saying no to someone who wants something destructive, or who wants to abuse somebody, either directly or indirectly. Sometimes we love one another by pointing out to folks who they may be hurting people without their even knowing it, or how their choices contribute to some injustice.
Why should we do this? Because Jesus has given everything for us, given us everything. Jesus poured out his life for us, given us hope, light, peace. The way we’re supposed to respond to that is how we are with each other. We repay Christ by our treatment of each other.
Today, Jesus calls us to the same standard of love that he presented by his life, death and resurrection. He feeds us with the food and drink that makes us part of him, even as he makes himself part of us. As we reflect on this Gospel today, the Gospel that forms the core for all we say and all we do and how we act, let us continue to pray that we can press outward on the boundaries that keep us from loving one another as Christ has loved us.