Of all the things Jesus was ever credited with saying, John 13:34 might be the most annoying. It is a passage that has challenged people for generations. It is a statement that changes the very way we must live if we are to follow Jesus. That passage reads, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another."
Most of us are familiar with this passage, but actually attempting to live it out in our lives can get a bit tricky. In essence, it means that if we comply with the command, we will suffer. This is so because the command doesn't afford us the opportunity for retaliation. There is no revenge to be had, only kindness to be extended.
Think about that for a minute. Say someone gossips or goes about spreading complete falsities around town about us -- we aren't to respond in anything but love.
If someone is rude or insults us, we are called to be pleasant back. When others take comfort in the excesses of greed, we are to be charitable to the point at which we would even give away the things we treasure for the others' benefit.
Practically speaking, this can be a frustrating principle to live by. Say you go to a restaurant and your waiter is rude, if you are living according to Jesus' teaching, then you are to be perfectly kind back to him or her -- even though you are paying to eat there. When the checkout person rings up your order wrong, you aren't supposed to sigh and give them angry looks, but instead you are to encourage them as they correct the mistake. If the coffee house messes up your latte seven times straight, you still are supposed to forgive the barista and wait patiently for your drink to be remade. More than that, we are even required to think the best of them in the process.
An additionally irritating aspect of this command is that it requires us to consider other people before we attend to ourselves. In that way it also offers no convenience. Someone might call you at 2 a.m. needing your assistance and you are supposed to eagerly get out of bed to come to his or her aid. People might come to you last minute wanting your help, and it may totally mess up your plans, and still, we are supposed to be helpful. Worse yet, your neighbor who never returns any of your tools might ask you to borrow your lawnmower, and you are commanded to oblige, happily.
What is even more maddening about Jesus' charge is that it can even create unwanted risk in our lives. If the stranger asks for our help, we are supposed to extend a helping hand even through we don't know them. If someone is displaced or homeless we are to aid in housing him or her. If you see someone drowning we are to swim to their rescue even when their thrashing about might risk us drowning too.
If someone is being attacked we are to defend him or her at our own peril.
In short, what Jesus commands is that we give up our sense of entitlement in exchange for following him. We sacrifice our larger sense of ownership in exchange for being his disciple. We relinquish our convenience in order to be faithful to his charge. We potentially even jeopardize our very selves in order to be his student, because Jesus commands us to change even the very way we think.
So knowing this, one might logically ask: "Why then would anybody agree to be a disciple of Jesus?" And to that question I will simply respond: Because the joy that you will receive through living out Christ's annoying charge will change your life so profoundly that once you begin living that way nothing else will suffice. You see, Jesus knew something that many of us fail to recognize: Once we realize life isn't all about us, we actually begin to live.
The Rev. Dr. Christopher Benek is the associate pastor of family ministries at Providence Presbyterian Church. Subscribe to his blog at www.christopherbenek.com.