35“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
It is what the world wants from Christians, and why so many are so angry with the church. We have, for the most part, been defenders of middle class morality (or, more recently, defenders of an educated elite class morality) rather than witnesses to and participants in God’s new creation.
Mark and Luke have Jesus declaring that the Kingdom of God is at hand. Matthew uses the phrase Kingdom of Heaven to speak of God’s drawing near to reign in every human heart. And John uses the phrase “eternal life” – the life of the age to come. This age is our present world torn and troubled by the warring of nations and peoples, hunger and disease. The age to come is the world made new, when sin and death and the greeds and passions of the human heart no longer rule.
But Jesus did not let that age to come be a pious hope for life after death, or life in some distant future. He said this life has come to us now. The kingdom is dawning amidst us. We are called to live the kingdom now. Eternal life is a present reality not just a promised future.
This is why we get all these stunning challenges in Jesus to forgive not seven but seventy-seven times, to love our enemies, to transform our encounters with the occupation forces by carrying the backpack an extra mile. This is why the poor, the meek, and those who hunger for righteousness are honored now. This is why Jesus speaks of the true shepherd as one who dies for the people not the other way round. This is why the vineyard owner pays all his workers a full day’s wage and why the king gathers street urchins to his wedding banquet. This is why Jesus opens blind eyes, and banquets with sinners and Pharisees alike. This is why Jesus touches lepers and lays hands on the dead to raise them to life. The world is being set right. The world God created is being restored. The age of righteousness – when all people are faithful to God and one another – is upon us.
All of this is connected to the redemptive work of Jesus. Humanity has a lot of explaining to do for its long legacy of death and destruction. How do you make it right with God for the death camps? How do you make it right with God for the fire-bombing of Dresden or the treatment of prisoners in Japanese prisoner of war camps? How do you make it right with God for the children traumatized and even murdered by parents, let alone friends and strangers? How do we make it right with God for all those throughout history who have been sold into slavery? How do we make it right for every act of disdain, every word of gossip, every malicious or salacious thought?
Something profound must change for the world to be born anew. Something deep in the human heart must perish and be reborn. And even then, there is no hope for us but in God’s choice to wipe away the unpayable debt. It is a transformative act. Humbling. Wondrous. The kind that should make us weep tears of gratitude and joy and dry his feet with our hair.
So loving one another is not about being a little more kind to our neighbors. It is about the kingdom itself, the new world God is creating. We have seen it in Jesus. He has laid down his life. He has breathed out his Spirit. The door to the kingdom is open. We are summoned to the banquet.