Parents of all different backgrounds and experiences are confronted by the same difficult word by their young ones: why?
There comes a time in a child’s development that the “what” and “how” are no longer good enough explanations. Overtime, Children want to know the meaning behind what is being asked of them.
Perhaps they know that this question gives parents the longest pause and thus gives the child the longest delay between being asked and doing what they’re told. Or perhaps there really does come a time when the intellectual curiosity of a child raises up to ask something profound.
Regardless of the child’s motivation, this is a frustratingly good question to many parents. A child will often ask it to the point of absurdity where any hope of a meaningful reply is hopeless.
Please, eat your green beans.
Because they are good for you.
Because they have vitamins and minerals in them that your body needs?
Because overtime human diets have evolved to rely on things that can be grown in their environment.
Because, if they didn’t they would die?
Because they wouldn’t get what the need to live?
—-Why wouldn’t they get what they need to live? Well I don’t know. We know God provides for us but also sometimes it seems like we are on our own. I’m not sure, actually…
—Why am I not sure? Well when I was growing up youth sports we’re really taking off and I didn’t get a chance to go to Sunday School as often as I wanted to… Wait, would you just eat your green beans please.
The why can be a silly thing but it is also the foundation of the human experience. The question always digs down deeper and deeper until it finds bedrock or nothing at all.
Today we hear what Jesus wants us to do. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Why? I wonder how Jesus would respond to a Sunday Schooler who respected the rabbi as much has their own parent; enough to question Jesus’ command as much as they would question everyone else’s?
Perhaps Jesus would say, “because I said so.” And this is a perfectly good response for the King of the Universe. And, actually, this puts us on the right track toward the answer. Just in knowing that it is Jesus commanding, we know that the meaning behind the command must be endlessly rich. It must ascend beyond the mundane command for us to eat healthy food so that we don’t get sick and die.
There is a practicality to it, of course. Our loving the world in the way Jesus commands will make the world a better place. The other weekend when we were doing our grounds day, I gravitated toward picking up litter. My dad always does this in a way that often embarrasses my mom. Whether he’s just on a walk or about to step into a wedding, my dad picks up bits of trash. Piece by piece picked up makes the world a better place. I do it because I thought it would make my dad smile. And I know that this must please my grandfather who carried a similar spirit. Just like any parent wants their child to contribute to the wellbeing of the world, it is easy for us to see such a will in our spiritual parent.
But God’s love for each and every one of us is so deep that there is even more meaning to this command. In other words, it holds up to even more “whys”.
Jesus tells us in this passage that by following his command “my joy may be in you and that your job may be complete.”
Cyril of Alexandria: Here it is as though when Jesus says, “All this I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you,” he’s saying that those things which encourage me may give you encouragement as well. You can face danger bravely, fortifying yourselves with the hope of those who will be saved. And, if suffering comes upon you in this work, don’t be brought down into the feebleness of apathy, but rejoice more abundantly when you fulfill the will of him that wills that all should be saved and come to the knowledge of truth” 1 Tim 2:4.
Loving others makes the world a better place but it also makes us happy, endlessly happy. Loving others is the only thing that is endlessly fulfilling, joy bringing. Because we have an eternal life in Christ we can eternally lay it down for others.
Old Cyril is saying that our joy is complete when we seek to fulfill it in the same things that bring Jesus joy. Encouraging, healing, and helping those who need it is what brought Jesus joy. Loving others is what brought Jesus joy. And when our wills are aligned with his we will find eternal joy in the eternal one.
In order to bear such fruit we must live off of the loving will of Jesus. Jesus commands these things because the poverty of our other options is so apparent. When we interrogate our motivations as much as young child what do we find at the end of the line of questioning? Is it love? Is what we want to do because of love? Is what we are doing because of love? If the answer is no, we are in trouble. If the answer is no, we are likely satisfying the will on someone or something that is not God.
Bishop Michael Curry says if it’s not about love, it’s not about Jesus.
Father Tom Early adds if it’s not about Jesus than it will wither and die.
We must abide in Jesus’ love which reaches out to all.
If what we are doing is not grounded in love, it will die.
Christians live on God’s love.
When we abide in it we grow and thrive.
When we don’t, we get sick and die.
Well, it’s kind of like green beans.