John 13:31-35New International Version (NIV)
31 When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.
33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
The reading today is speaking of glory, glory, glory. There are a lot of glories here!
‘Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him.’
If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.
So what do we mean by this word glory?
We say something is glorious when it somehow stands over and above other things. It has a sense of shining and when we use the word it also has a sense of worship. Giving something very high value and honour with our lives.
Actions can be glorious when they stand out as creative or great or extremely good.
We may know of people we’d deem as being glorious. Some might think the Queen is glorious, she certainly stands out with her faithfulness of her vocation to the people of her realm.
We might think that the ANZAC’s were glorious in the way they sacrificed their lives for peace and freedom in the world.
There was that glorious moment at the Sydney Olympics when Kathy Freeman won her race and celebrated carrying the aboriginal flag of Australia.
Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, are people we hold up as glorious Christians.
The Bible in many ways and places speaks of the glory of God and again how this is expressed varies from situation to situation. When Moses led the people of Israel through the desert they say God’s glory travelled with them in the pillar of cloud by day and the fire by night.
Moses face shone so powerfully with the glory of God, after he had been up on the mountain that the people could not bear to look at him, and so he had to wear a veil over his face.
Isaiah and Kings also speaks of the glory of God filling the temple, especially the inner sanctuary where the Holy of Holy’s was kept.
God’s glory shone through the angels when Jesus was born and filled the heavens as the shepherds looked up into the sky.
‘Glory to God in the highest and peace to all people on earth.’
God’s glory also shone through Jesus when he was transfigured on the mountain. In Revelation we have image after image of the glory of God being worshipped and honoured and celebrated.
‘To him who sits on the throne and to the lamb be praise and honour and glory and power forever and ever.’ Rev.5: 13
So when we hear Jesus speaking about himself, ‘Now is the Son of man glorified, we know it means something like ‘he is standing out, shining both inside and out with the presence of God. Taking it to another level, through what he is doing he is making the beauty and shining of the reality of God present in his actions and being.
So the context of this teaching is very important. We know it is set at the last supper before Jesus died on the cross and his statement about ‘now is the Son of Man glorified’, comes just as Judas has been sent out in order to betray Jesus which set up Jesus’ death on the cross, where he will be lifted up and glorified. Not in a way most people would expect, but in the way in which God’s purposes for both him and humanity will be fulfilled. In the ugliness and terrible events of the passion.
Jesus goes on to say to the disciples: ‘Little children’ [teknea mikron] as a parent would speak of their children,
‘I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.’
You cannot do what I am about to do and you cannot go where I am about to go. My job as the Son is die for humanity and for the world, I do it for the Father and I do it with the Father, this is God’s action in order to enable your life to be freed from the oppression and eternal damage of sin. Jesus is the one chosen to be the perfect sacrifice for the sin of the world. There is no other who can do it.
What does Jesus say to us?
‘Love one another’
We are cannot to die as he died. But we have something we must do, a commandment, not an option. This special love which we are called to exhibit to each other. He is speaking here to the inner circle of his disciples. This love is called ‘agape’ in Greek and through ‘agape’ we reveal our glory which is not of and in us, but from God through Jesus. When we live ‘agape’ we make Jesus’ glory visible to the world.
So ‘agape’ is the new law- not a whole bunch of regulations and external rules, but a basic rule ‘agape’.
This word ‘agape’, does not mean emotional hormonal type love, it does not even mean brotherly or sisterly love and affection as exists between friends, although there is nothing to say that ‘agape’ may not exist in these types of relationships. It does not even mean I have to like you, but I must still ‘agape’ you.
Agape first and fore mostly wants what is the best for the other person, it is not wimpy or romantic particularly, it can be strong and challenging if that is what is best. ‘Agape’ love is prepared to give all and be all for the sake of the other, and in this when we show ‘agape’, we are the glory of God, not of ourselves. I have this glorious story from South Sudan which is a story of this kind of ‘Agape’.
David De Dau, 38, lives in Gudele, Juba. He experienced the outbreak of violence: On Sunday 15th December 2013. He arrived in Juba after a long drive from Gulu in Uganda.
His story goes like this:
At around 8:30 pm, I heard gunshots. I got a call immediately after from a friend who worked with national security, telling me to stay put. I was shocked because I didn’t know that South Sudanese people could still take up arms against each other.
Two days after the fighting started, I had to collect my mother-in-law from Miahusaba area. As I drove back, I was stopped by some policemen on the road. I reduced my speed to a snail’s pace and rolled down the glass window. Police officer dressed in uniform: “Maale?” They asked, meaning peace be with you in Nuer.
“Maale mugwa,” I responded. Peace is good.
This was obviously the wrong response as they cocked their guns at me and ordered me to get out and fall to my knees.
“Get him, he’s Nuer.”
My mother-in-law wanted to scream saying he is not Nuer, I ask her to keep quiet. I got out of the car slowly and stood at the front right-side of my car. As they were about to shoot, I opened my mouth to speak. What were a few minutes of running my mouth going to cost me if I was going to die? I had a few chosen words for them. This time I chose to speak in Dinka, my native language. The surprise on their faces was priceless.
“I am not going on my knees. Feel free to shoot but I will never die on my knees.” Bold, I know, but they did not shoot. I proceeded.
“If you had asked me in Arabic ‘Salaam Aleikum’, I would have responded in Arabic saying ‘Aleikum Salaam’. Would that mean that I am an Arab? If you can answer that convincingly, then I am now ready to die.”
They dropped their guns and looked at me intently, then at each other. “Where are you from?” they asked. Bold with the presence of life in my body, I decided to provoke them further.
Why is it so useful for you to know where I hail from?” I asked.
“Just tell us where you’re from,” he repeated, now visibly irritated.
“I roughly speak five languages, so I am from five different places,” I said.
“You, give us your ID!”
“I left it at home. And even if I had it, what reason do you have for asking for it. Am I not a free citizen of South Sudan?” I asked, now also visibly irritated.
“Give us your Driving License!!!”
I did. They could not read.
They handed it back to me and told me that if I was moving around and wanted to stay alive, I should reveal where I am from and speak my language. Not everyone would be as patient as they were to me.
My cousin had lost his life the same way only a few days before. He had responded in Arabic and before he could finish a sentence, he was on his way out. “My people have shot me,” were his last words in Dinka.
The man who had pulled the trigger then dropped his gun and started crying. He had killed one of his own. The irony is not lost on me.
My mother-in-law and I drove to my house in silence. Sometimes there is so much to say but no one willing to say it.
No one stopped the car this time. We reached home safe. My compound had never been so full of people but I understood the need for people to find a safe space. My home is considered safe because I am a Dinka.
I reflect on this as I say hello to my Nuer neighbors and their children who I have hidden in my house. How safe it is, I don’t know. I am considered safe but I was almost killed today based on flawed logic. I am considered safe, yet people constantly stalk my compound asking for “the Nuer” that live in the compound next to mine. I remember one visit clearly.
“We know there are Nuer people who live in the houses next door. Do you know where they are?” they asked.
“I don’t know where they are, they probably ran to the camp.”
“Ok, then we will do something else to send a message,” they said, walking to their houses with every intention to loot and destroy.
“Those houses belong to me. I am renting them to the Nuer neighbors you are looking for. If you destroy them, you are destroying my property. What message are you trying to send to me because you can just tell me now.”
I wonder if I’d still be considered safe if they know that the people they were looking for were in my house.
This is truly ‘agape’ as Jesus would want. David is concerned not just for himself, in fact he is willing to die, he is not just concerned for the Nuer either, he is also concerned for his own people, challenging their violent ways by his compassionate inclusiveness and love. It is people like David who will make South Sudan the country it aspires to be. This story in my mind is one where the glory of God shines through David’s life because of agape love.
How does that work with you? What does God say to you about loving your neighbour?