Agapate Allelous: Love beyond each other, Easter 5C 2004, 9 May 2004
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Easter 5C 2004 John 13:31-35
Well, today is Mothers Day, a day often washed with sentiment, Hallmark cards, roses, and eating out. At least that was
the way it was when I was growing up.
I ran across this job description for mothers on the InterNet this week. If you have read Irma Bombeck you may have seen
it before. Heres what she wrote:
"Wanted: Woman to raise, educate and entertain child for minimum of 20 years. Be prepared to eat egg if the yolk
breaks, receive anything in hand child spits out, and take knots out of wet shoestrings with teeth. Must be expert in making
costume for 'bad tooth' in the dental play and picking bathroom locks with shish kebab skewer. Hours: Seven days a week, 24
hours a day, including holidays. Comprehensive dental plan, vacation, medical benefits and company car negotiable. (1) Sound
It might be useful to talk or review briefly the different words for, and kinds of, love as they were understood by the
writers of the Gospels as they put them down in the koine Greek of almost two thousand years ago. In Irma Bombecks funny little
job description for mothers, she is writing about philia, Philia is too often exclusively reserved for brotherly love, perhaps
because the city of Philadelphia is called the City of Brotherly Love since its founding by William Penn.
But philia most strictly means first of all the love of parents for their children and secondarily the love between relatives
in a family context. It is not the kind of love Jesus was talking about in our Gospel for today.
Those of us who use email a lot know that the promoters of Eros easily find a way to avoid whatever spam filters we may
have employed. Every day my computer monitor pops forth with ads that want to improve my ability for erotic love, by offering
inducements to enhance certain parts of my body. Not to mention the ads for pornography that escape the filter. Eros, erotic
love or love focused almost exclusively on sexual love.
A third kind of love, not used by the New Testament writers is storge. A patriotic love, the love that exists between
a ruler and the people.
The word for love used almost exclusively by the New Testament writers is agapao, the verb, and its noun form, agape.
This is the love shown by the Good Samaritan to the man beaten by robbers and left in a ditch to die, the love of loving kindness
and tender mercies.
It is the love of John 3:16. It is the love of God and of neighbor in the Summary of the Law. Agape is heseth berith,
the covenant love between God and his people. It is the love of God for his people described in our psalm for today:
The Lord is gracious and full of compassion,
slow to anger and of great kindness.
The Lord is loving to everyone
and his compassion is over all his works.
Sometimes we humans make a distinction between loving our neighbors and liking them. In the Gospel according to Peanuts,
Charles Shultz portrays Lucy standing with her arms folded and a resolute expression on her face.
Charlie Brown is there with her.
Charlie Brown pleads with her. "Lucy," he says, "you must be more loving. The world needs love. Make this
world a better place, Lucy, by loving someone else."
At that Lucy whirls around angrily and Charlie goes
flipping over backwards. "Look, you blockhead," Lucy screams. "The world I love. It's people I can't stand!"
Somehow I dont think this is what Jesus had in mind exactly. In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus is building on the
Levitical Law from which he derived the second part of the Summary of the Law: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. It
is the alternate reading for the first lesson. It is this:
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of
your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for
the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God.
You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely
by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the LORD.
You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until
morning. You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.
You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you
shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood
of your neighbor: I am the LORD.
You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself.
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I
am the LORD.
Note that the Levitical text is negative and prohibitive until it comes to you shall love your neighbor as yourself. A
further note: When the rabbis translated the Hebrew Scriptures into the Greek most of the Jewish people spoke when they didnt
speak Aramaic shortly before the time of Jesus on earth, they used agape for love in this passage.
Jesus turned it around in talking to his disciples and carried it to radical new heights and depths: I give you a new
commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will
know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
This goes far beyond just doing no harm and showing a minimum sort of charity. Agape love is love in action, seeking out
ways to show itself to others.
It is particularly important to note that Jesus said precisely this in Greek: agapate allelous. Allelous is key. Jesus
expanded agape love beyond the small circle of the disciples. He extended it to everyone everywhere in every time. Allelous
means more than just one another it connotes reaching out beyond friends even to the stranger, the foreigner, and the hostile
the love your enemies, the judge not lest you be likewise judged part of the Good News of Jesus Christ. (3)
A last story about Agapate allelous in action: A couple took their children with them to a restaurant for Mothers Day.
The six-year-old son asked if he could say grace. As they bowed our heads he said, "God is great, God is good, thank
you for the food, and I would even thank you more if mom gets us ice cream for dessert and liberty and justice for all! Amen!"
Along with the laughter from the other customers nearby the young family heard a woman snarl, "That's what's wrong
with this country. Kids today don't even know how to pray. Asking God for Ice cream! Why, I never!"
Hearing this, six-year-old burst into tears and asked his mother, "Did I do it wrong? Is God mad at me?"
As she held him and assured him that he had done a terrific job and God was certainly not mad at him, an elderly gentleman
approached the table. He winked at the boy and said, "I happen to know that God thought that was a great prayer.
"Really?" the young lad asked.
"Cross my heart," the man replied. Then in a loud theatrical whisper that everyone in the restaurant could hear,
especially the woman whose remark had started this whole thing, he added, "Too bad she never asks God for ice cream.
A little ice cream is good for the soul sometimes."
Naturally, the mother ordered ice cream sundaes for her children at the end of the meal. Her son stared at his for a moment
and then did something she would remember for the rest of her life. He picked up his ice cream sundae and without saying a
word to his family, he walked over and placed it in front of the woman.
With a big smile he told her, "Here, this is for you.
Ice cream is good for the soul sometimes; and my soul is good already." (4)
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your
strength. This is the first and great commandment.
And the second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Agapate allelous. There is no other commandment greater than these.
1. From Is It Well With Your Family?, Brett Blair and Staff, ChristianGlobe Network, 2001, esermons.com
2. Lee Griess, Taking The Risk Out Of Dying, CSS Publishing Company.
3. Kittel, allos, I, 264-265
4. Harry Cole, Children Saying Grace, [Sermons-org] 5-8-04 - Saying Grace