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Autumn 2020 reflections Reflections

Week 3: John 13:34-35

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

John 13:34-35

By Revd Canon Andrew Bunch, Vicar of St Giles’ and St Margaret’s, Oxford:

Very early in my time as a parish priest I asked another priest, who had been at school with me, what was the best way of getting the message of the Gospel across to people. He gave me a very simple and direct response… “Just love them!” Challenging and concise …. But what is love?

Get a group of clergy together and you can be sure that before too long they are talking about funerals. But what makes people want to go to a funeral? The answer seems to be that the people who come are those who have been touched by the love of the deceased. This was made plain to me by one particular funeral, of a lonely lady, that I took early in my days as a parish priest. The lady’s next-door neighbours came to me for the funeral interview and early on they said something very strange… “she was a very difficult woman.” Well, it isn’t normal for people to say that of the one who has just died, so I noted the comment, but put it to one side. Then they used the same phrase again a few minutes later and a few minutes after that. I realised it couldn’t be ignored. So, I asked how did they get to know the deceased? It came about from many years before when the couple moved into their house, this lady had helped them over a couple of matters. For me, that really demonstrated the power of even a limited act of love in forming a lasting relationship.

The trouble is our society seems to want to equate love with liking something a lot, but this doesn’t ring true with the reality of life. Love seems to be the glue in life that holds people together despite their differences and disagreements. Love bridges the gaps between people, cares for them in a time of need and essentially gives people a chance when a rational choice would be to walk away. These insights indicated the need for a re-assessment of Jesus’ statement recorded in John’s Gospel “love one another as I have loved you.”

My quest became to define the characteristics of the nature of love that Jesus had demonstrated in his life and talked about in his teaching. There were some definite themes that came up namely compassion, forgiveness, mercy, and a generosity of heart. This is what goes to make a community in which love is known and experienced. But the implication of the Beatitudes indicates that the kind of love Jesus was wanting people to engage with was dynamic and not static in character. For the Beatitudes set before us principles that can never be completed, they present an ongoing challenge.

Having gained these insights, the question was how to share them in a way which could be readily understood and applied in our current society. I wanted to find a model to get the message across and the one that came to mind was “the arrow of love”, the picture shows it in diagrammatic form. Although the model may seem novel in Christianity, it is actually indicated in the book “The Cloud of Unknowing“ by a medieval Christian mystic, which states that …. it is only with the arrow of love that you can pierce the cloud of unknowing surrounding God.

But the intention of an arrow only really comes into being when it is in flight and for this to happen, there must be a pressure wave that precedes the tip of the arrow. Searching for the characteristic of love which corresponds to this function caused my whole understanding of Jesus’ life and teaching to go through a somersault. For I realised that for the arrow of love to fly, the prerequisite is a spirit of humility. The teaching on this is present many times in the Gospel, but I had failed to recognise it. It is present in Jesus’ birth, his death, his teaching about becoming like a child and his condemnation of James and John wanting the best of places in God’s Kingdom… it is there time and time again.

The arrow of love seems to give a clear insight into the nature of love Jesus wants us to take into our way of life. All of us can make this arrow fly in our lives but … it demands that we live with a humility of heart. It is joyous when the arrow is in flight in our lives, it transforms the world around us, for the flight of the arrow of love creates a culture of generosity in its wake.

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One reply on “Week 3: John 13:34-35”

Absolutely amazing text, thank you Andrew!
I still wonder why it needed such a long “absence” and even my best friend John’s departure for me to get back to you and your parish! Praise be to God!
Be safe, be blessed!
Love in Christ!
Marie-France

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