Lately, I’ve found myself coming back to the same few words in the Gospel of John, over and over again. They’re important words to hear right now. We’re not just struggling with a pandemic, we’re struggling with so many other things and, most importantly, we’re struggling with each other. We’re frustrated and lonely and fearful and angry – too many emotions to count – whatever side you’re on. And those sides are getting further and further apart. Opinions seem more valuable than facts, facts seem to be what we make them, and we’re not so much talking as shouting. It’s like we’re building a “no man’s land” between our sides.
You know, that expression, though most familiar from World War I, actually dates from the 11th century. The point isn’t just that nothing can survive there, but to purposefully keep things – people, especially – apart. Intentionally. On purpose. We might as well just rename it “the middle.”
But I don’t think it’s empty. It’s where Jesus is. Mostly, when Jesus isn’t running back and forth between the sides, trying to draw people into the middle. And there’s never just two sides. Jesus is busy.
That’s why Jesus needs help. So, those few words from John. The night Jesus is arrested, the story in John has Jesus and the disciples sharing a meal and then Jesus makes a lengthy post-dinner speech. It’s clearly a farewell and he prefaces it by saying “look, I’m not going to be here much longer in person, so I have a new commandment for you: love one another as I have loved you.” And then he goes on to offer them words of comfort and even more words that explains more of what he means by “as I have loved you” and why it’s so important.
Thing is, “love one another” sounds pretty straight forward. It’s warm and fuzzy and comforting and I’m sure we’d all have our own way of understanding it. But Jesus didn’t say that. Jesus said “love one another as I have loved you.” I showed you how with my life. I showed you how in your relationships with me. I showed you that love is the way and that way is true and life-giving. Most importantly, I showed you with my life that your life is just as capable of it as me. You, too, come from God and the earth. You, too, are love – it’s your factory setting. You, too, can see that love in yourself, know that love and live that love into the world because the world is made of love. It’s the thing that connects all things. It’s the way. It’s not easy, it can be tricky and dangerous and scary. But it’s the way to wholeness. It’s the way to joy, not just happiness but true joy. It’s the way to completeness.
That’s the thing about “the way.” It’s not just Jesus, it’s love. By however or whoever you name it, it’s love. It’s not something to divide us, but to bring us together. It acknowledges our uniqueness, it allows our opinions, our thoughts, our beliefs, but invites us to a place of connection with grace, respect, openness and understanding. It invites us to see the value and true meaning of “together.” It invites us to the middle.