Love Life: Invitation Reflection
In the last days of his life, Jesus gathers his disciples around him and tells them, “I have called you friends.” We watch this friendship grow, throughout the pages of John’s Gospel, in the very real and challenging love Jesus shares with those friends, from his first invitation that they “Come and see” to his demonstration of love in the washing of their feet at the Last Supper. “I have set you an example,” he tells them, “that you also should do as I have done to you.” The same love which he shares with the Father, he now shares with them. He asks them in turn to share this love with one another and with the world. “We love,” the author of First John tells us, “because he first loved us.”
This invitation to intimate relationship crystallizes in John’s Gospel around the figure of the “beloved disciple” who appears at the Last Supper, reclining on the breast of Jesus. We find him again later, at the Crucifixion, waiting beside the Cross. Tradition has assumed that this disciple is also the author of the Gospel, John. Whether or not the “disciple whom Jesus loved” is the same person who wrote the Gospel, it is actually most significant that this disciple is never named. Anonymous, the beloved disciple becomes a stand-in for every disciple.
We are all invited to be beloved disciples. Every one of us is invited to step into that privileged place, close to the heart of Jesus, and thus close to the heart of the Father. “For it was you who formed my inward parts,” we read in Psalm 139, “you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Knowing ourselves to be beloved by God allows us to share that love with a world in need.
How do we accept this invitation? There is an old story that comes to us from the church at Ephesus, where, legend has it, the beloved disciple lived out his final years. By then he had become quite aged and decrepit, unable even to walk into the church. He had to be carried into the church to preach. And week after week his sermon was one single phrase repeated again and again: “Love one another. Love one another. Love one another.” We accept God’s invitation to become beloved disciples by the love we share with the world.
I lingered over this: “Knowing ourselves to be beloved by God allows us to share that love with a world in need.”
I feel the opposite is true also: Finding a well of love for the world inside of me allows me to know I’m beloved. It’s more than I could possibly muster alone, so it must be God’s love.
Oh lord help me to love!
I think the message “love one another” bears repeating over and over. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I find I can love everything in creation with greater ease than I can my fellow human beings. Why is that? Is it because I consider people capable of looking after themselves in love? But nothing else in creation needs my love either, yet I still do. Is it because people are inherently unloveable (in my own selfish estimation)? No, of course not. If I find even one person worthy of love, then it stands to reason that ALL must be.
Regardless, one of the hardest lessons for me to practice is to love one another. I pray all the time that it wasn’t so. I’m persuaded that God created us with this lively ever-growing intellect in experiment to see where and how far we can take our own autonomy. And whenever we stray too far from the unifying love of the whole, someone must be posted to repeat the message “love one another.” Ad if the phrase were a retractable leash.
Love one another! Doesn’t that just say it all? I’ve taken to heart that love is not just a feeling but a decision, so every day when I wake up during this Lent I’ve planned to begin the day by deciding to love. They say if you do something for 30 days it becomes a habit. This would be a wonderful habit to have wouldn’t it?
I pray that I will experience a deeper love of God during this Lenten season and that I will find new ways to share that love with others throughout the remainder of my days on earth.