Thursday, April 2, 2015

A Mandate To Love

The name of this day in the Christian calendar, "Maundy Thursday," comes from the Latin version of the 34th verse of the thirteenth chapter of John's Gospel. Jesus, gathered with his friends, washes their feet and then gives them a new commandment - a new mandate to love. "Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos" ("A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another;even as I have loved you, that you love one another," RSV.) 

In my reading of the gospel, this first day of the Triduum takes us to the very heart of the gospel. It's way more than a "thread" in the teachings of Jesus - it takes us right to the center. What is the whole of Torah? Love God, love your neighbor. Who is my neighbor? Well, once there was this man walking along the Jericho road...

My heart has been heavy in these latter days of Lent with the news out of Indiana and the legislation that I believe clearly discriminates against LGBTQ people. That is bad enough. This is not the place to debate gay marriage, but I'm weary of "Christians" who claim to be reading the Bible and then impose on that sacred text a reading of marriage that is rooted in 1950s America. A simple word search of marriage in the Bible would make it clear that (as in our own world) that it's kind of complicated. Ask Abraham and Sarah and Hagar for their takes on it. Ask Tamar. Or Rachel and Leah. Or Bathsheba. 

I get it that Christians will disagree about this. I get it that religious people interpret their sacred texts differently, and we have a right to those differing interpretations. But what I do not get, or excuse, are people who claim to be Christians acting like bigots and ignoring the heart of the gospel, which is this commandment to love one another. Even for those who feel they must hate the "sin" - what about loving the "sinner?" How did this uncompassionate, fear-of-the-other bigotry get to call itself "Christian" and then insist on a religious "right" to discriminate against neighbors? Truly I don't understand that. I think it is taking the Lord's name in vain...

On both the left and on the right we can be guilty of cherry picking our texts - of proof-texting to insist that God is on our side. All of us need to guard against that. Our goal is to try to make sure we are on God's side. As I read the whole of the Christian tradition, that would suggest erring on the side of grace over judgment, on the side of compassion and love over fear and scapegoating. The mandate that Jesus gives us is to love one another because we have first been loved. That's not just some obscure text. It takes us to the heart of the matter - on this and every day - and to the deepest truth of the Paschal mystery. 

God so loved the world, after all. No exceptions. 

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