Date: May 19, 2019/Speaker: Jon Hauerwas


Revelation 21:1-6 and John 13:31-35

This week’s Gospel lesson begins with a seemingly straightforward phrase, saying: “when he had gone out.” But, to understand who “he” is, we have to backtrack a bit, where we soon discover that “he” was actually Judas Iscariot, the one who will soon betray Jesus. Judas’ departure from this scene reminds us that there are false friends in this world. And as Judas exits, Jesus makes the curious claim that his own glorification is imminent. [1]

How is it that one is glorified? Earlier this week, French President Emmanuel Macron paid tribute to two special forces members who died in a daring operation to rescue four hostages. Macron defended the East African mission, saying that it was “perilous” but “necessary” because “France is a country that does not abandon its children, no matter the circumstances.” Consoling crowds of well-wishers, the French President added that “a life given is not a life taken.” [2]

Had the word “France” been replaced with the word “God,” then Macron could easily have been speaking about Jesus. Because his journey, too, was both perilous and necessary. Jesus, too, was unwilling to abandon his children, no matter the circumstances. And the claim that “a life given is not a life taken?” Well, theologians have been arguing that same point for centuries.

Soldiers, like those who died in East Africa, understand the danger and the possible costs associated with their vocation. Yet, they are still propelled forward, directly into harm’s way, by convictions and ideals that are greater than themselves. This forms a clear distinction between one who is called a victim and one who willingly lays down his life for his friends.

In scripture, it is evident that Jesus willingly laid down his life – not merely in death, but in life, as well. In so doing, he embodied his own greatest commandments: to love the Lord your God with all of your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself. In this passage, Jesus claims that he is offering a “new commandment.” This is not to say that these teachings originate with him. We know better. Instead, what is “new” is Jesus’ complete embodiment of them. As he reminded the disciples at the Last Supper, “This is the new covenant, which is for you.”

Jesus shared himself, in word and deed, with friends and false friends alike. And he recognized that, in life, danger wears many faces. Today, mass shootings are on the rise in American schools and workplaces. In the aftermath of these tragedies, survivors speak of individuals who, at great risk to themselves, attempted to disarm the gunman. Some perished in the struggle. Others succeeded in restraining the aggressor until authorities could come and arrest him. Yet, without exception and whatever the outcome, those who have courageously faced the prospect of death have been called heroes.

Such heroes are often slow to accept praise from others. They insist that they merely did what any of us would do under similar circumstances. Some of them shy away from attention and recognition. They’re not looking for a way to capitalize on their newfound notoriety. They simply wish that the whole episode had never happened. That more lives could have been spared. That tragedy could have been averted. And yet, their lives bear witness to the truth that bad actors walk among us.

When Judas “went out,” he didn’t just leave Jesus and the others disciples in a physical sense. He also left them emotionally and spiritually, as well. He separated himself from them, and he formed a new allegiance. His new covenant would lead straight to death, serving as a stark contrast to Jesus’ new covenant, rooted in love and offering the promise of eternal life. Judas, then, is the ultimate foil, deserting and betraying his friends, while Jesus remains steadfast, to the point of death on a cross.

Gail O’Day writes, “to love one another as Jesus loves us does not automatically translate into one believer’s death for another, nor does it mean to deny oneself for others. Jesus did not deny himself; he lived his identity and vocation fully. Rather, to love one another as Jesus loves us is to live a life thoroughly shaped by a love that knows no limits, by a love whose expression brings the believer closer into relationship with God, with Jesus, and with one another. It is live a love that carries with it a whole new concept of the possibilities of community.” [3]

Friends, we know courage when we see it, and we rightfully recognize it with grateful hearts. We do this by paying tribute to the human capacity to love by honoring the ability to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. To risk it all for God. May it be so. Amen.

[1] Carolyn B. Helsel, “Fifth Sunday of Easter,” Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship, Ed. Joel B. Green, (Westminster John Knox Press, 2018), 262.

[2] https://i.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/05/14/emmanuel-macron-defends-decision-order-french-tourists-rescue/. Accessed on May 18, 2019.

[3] Gail R. O’Day, John, The New Interpreter’s Bible Volume IX, ed. Leander Keck (Abingdon Press, 1996), 734.

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