“By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). This declaration by Jesus asserts the Christian’s need for quality personal relationships with other Christians. It is not enough to hand out brochures to strangers, or even to invite others over to eat with you now and then. There must be a deeper commitment to genuine community—to vulnerable relationships with other human beings.
Practically, that means living as oysters without shells in a church of prickles and stings. It means loving deeply, and consequently, hurting deeply. I don’t really like this interpretation of the Gospel, but I can’t seem to avoid it. That’s because in my recent prayerful contemplation of Jesus’ friendships, I have come to the conclusion that this is how He lived. In fact, it seems that the majority of the pain He suffered during His life on earth came from relationships. From His terribly awkward beginning—obvious but mysterious sexual sin in an eagerly whispering small village—to His disciples’ devastating abandonment at the end, Jesus’ closest relationships caused Him continual anguish. Perhaps most astonishing, He never seemed to “learn the lesson” of putting up walls to protect His heart. Gazing at Jerusalem just before His crucifixion, He was overwhelmed, not with anger, but with grief that the people He loved utterly rejected His invitation to community.
Psalm 41:9, a Messianic prophecy, says, “Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.” Jesus referenced this in John 13:18, speaking of Judas. But more than that—could this be a reference to Genesis 3:15, where God prophesied that Lucifer, one of Jesus’ former best friends, would someday “bruise His heel”? It seems that God is no Stranger to pain. The essence of sin is the rejection of community.
God is a Community. He offers community continually. I have scoured the Gospels, but I can’t find a single story evidencing that Jesus allowed fear of pain to limit His vulnerability to others. He was strategic in His interactions with others, inviting some into closer fellowship, while kindly but firmly limiting His availability to others (Mark 6:31, 32; Luke 8:38, 39). But He only completely withdrew from community with others when they testified that they wanted no communion with Him.
Love respects choice. Jesus did not refuse His betrayer’s kiss; He spoke kindly to Judas instead. When Peter had just denied Him, Jesus looked at him with love. Before telling the rich young ruler the cost of discipleship, Jesus already knew He would be deemed unworthy of that price. The longing of His soul to connect with this selfish young man was so intense that the watching disciples, years later, testified to what they saw in His eyes: Jesus “beholding him loved him” (Mark 10:21, 22).
These were situations in which Jesus knew each person still desired His presence in some way. Only Herod, who had apparently defied the Holy Spirit until he had no desire whatsoever for true relationship with God, faced the silence of Jesus. Jesus’ love for Herod was expressed in acceptance of Herod’s hardened choice. But Jesus maintained an open door to community with every receptive human being. Those who proved themselves untrustworthy He did not feel obligated to trust (John 2:23, 24), but He never stopped loving. While He modeled boundaries, Jesus refused to build walls.
“Whoever says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked” (I John 2:6).