5.23.2006

Can love be commanded?

This past Sunday we read the appointed Gospel lesson about Jesus commanding his disciples to love one another. It was observed that love can be given, and love can be inspired ... but it can't be commanded. Demanding a relationship that must be voluntarily entered into is an oxymoron.

It occurs to me that what Jesus was doing was being contextual, using the language of his audience. To the observant Jews of his time, the commandments were the pinnacle of piety -- keeping the law wasn't part of the religion, it was the point of religion. It was the only relationship with God that mattered, that of obeying the externally observable rules.

Jesus had been very clear in the sermon on the mount that keeping the law was a first step, not a destination. This "righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees" would be exceeded by people who lived in the kingdom. But it was the litmus test of his time, used to include some and exclude others.

By making love a commandment, Jesus isn't asking his followers to force the feeling of love. He isn't coercing the disciples, nor is he simply describing another "law" that can be measured by neutral observers. Rather, Jesus' point, I think, is to say this: You think that the point of your religion is to keep the law. No, I say the central thing is love. You think you have been given a law to keep, I say you have been loved extravagantly. The response isn't just to keep the law, it's to love in the same way.

We accompanied this reading and discussion with a new video by The Work of the People, based on Derek Webb's song "A New Law."

don’t teach me about politics and government
just tell me who to vote for

don’t teach me about truth and beauty
just label my music

don’t teach me how to live like a free man
just give me a new law

i don’t wanna know if the answers aren’t easy
so just bring it down from the mountain to me


The film uses a great visual piece of business... people on the street are handing out blindfolds, which people wear to walk, eat, drive, read books, view art, preach... and finally have the boldness to peak out to see what's really there.

That seems to me to be what Jesus was saying... don't just take the law and then use blinders to shut out its implications for your life, but look... really look... and where love can make a difference. And then do it.

Thank you, God, for taking off your blinders and coming to live among us.

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