In case no one has ever told you, you forgot, can’t recall, or have yet to hear; there are four Gospels. Gospel is an English word, which comes to us through Anglo- Saxon and we translate as “Good News”. They are called Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These are the first four books of the New Testament, the second half of what Christians call the Holy Bible.
If you go to the Bible I just presented you and turn to the first page of the New Testament it says something like this, “This is the Gospel according to Matthew”. This means you’re reading Matthew’s version of events. It’s his perspective. The same thing goes for Mark, Luke, and John. I also need to tell you that these “according to stories” were written long after the events they describe. John’s, the one we read this morning, was written some sixty years after Jesus death. It is not a literal transcript of someone taking notes of Jesus speaking. Instead, people are trying to recall what they remember from the distant past. Sometimes we get our memories wrong, sometimes right. Four people can see the same car accident and remember entirely different events. We easily forget people, their looks, shapes, hair, and what we had for dinner last Thursday night.. Ideas and beliefs are much easier, it seems, to remember. We can get the “gist” of things, even if we don’t remember the “thing” itself.
Sixty years after his death, some friends and followers of Jesus (people who knew him and people who didn’t know him) were sitting around asking themselves the question, “what did Jesus think was the most important stuff for us to remember?” If there was anyone still alive, present in the room who knew Jesus, they would be between 80 and 90 years old. In a world before modern medicine, random violence, and religious persecution; that would be amazing. What might our 80 year old disciple remember Jesus saying? “I have much more to say to you, but you can’t handle it now.”
Let that verse sink in. We want to know it all. It makes us uncomfortable to think about the frailties of human memory when transmitting the gospel from generation to generation. Do we not realize the meaning of Jesus saying to us, his disciples, “we can’t handle everything he would like to tell us”? There’s more and we’re not ready.
More what? There are more ideas and more things Jesus wanted to tell us. So they tried to recall, everything Jesus wanted them to remember. Someone got a quill, papyrus, and started writing them down. The older ones among them recalled that the night before he was executed he kept them up talking about certain ideas. This is why, in the middle of John’s gospel, you find three chapters where Jesus is simply riffing on what not to forget, what’s really important, and what your priorities ought to be when he’s gone.
What does he tell them? You are never going to believe this. It is the most controversial scripture in the Bible. This verse makes people angry. People have been killed over this verse. Jesus’ insistence upon these words led to his murder. Are you ready for it? Do you want me to tell you these most incendiary of words?
Jesus says, “Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) Jesus tells his disciples to love each other. You may forget many things over time but you do not forget being told to love each other by an innocent man on death row.
Can you believe the gall, the gumption, which Jesus has to tell us to love each other? Jesus doesn’t say to judge or condemn anyone. Jesus says to love others as he loves us, which is a crazy amount of love.
Jesus doesn’t stop there. The controversy and easily misunderstood teachings continue. “My command is this,” he goes on. I’m sure when Jesus uses the word command it’s going to be harsh, official, and tell us to do serious stone casting. Does everyone have their stone throwing arms ready?
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. I know longer call you servants, instead I call you friends.” Let me get this straight, Jesus’ command to me is to sacrificially love you the way he loves me; to give up more than I’ll ever give in life. Tacked on to that little beauty, Jesus goes so far as to tell us, “we’re not his slaves, we’re his friends.” Jesus seems to be really hung up on these ideas of love, friendship, and giving. It’s almost, as if he were trying to boil it down to the things he valued most. Perhaps that’s why people remembered them and thought it important to share them.
If you were sixty years past the death of a great religious leader and trying to create a written legacy for the man you based your faith upon; what would you do? When everyone was worshiping flashy Roman Gods and Goddesses would you claim your God was not into death but life, love not hate, friendship not slavery, and giving instead of exploitation? You wouldn’t. You’d be tempted to go with what’s trending. Much like now, sacrificial love wasn’t popular. This is why I believe John, Jesus, and think these are words worth listening to. They bucked the trend. These are dangerous words. Words like this got Jesus killed.
You’ve been given these dangerous, healing words. They are not only in the Bible you’ve received but are also etched on your hearts. Love, friendship, and giving; radical Jesus endorsed ideas in a self-obsessed, social media driven world. Do you really want to be different, dangerous, and radical? Give Jesus’ kind of love a try. It is dangerous, dirty, and risky. However, the rewards outweigh any risk you can dare imagine.