Just recently I came to realise that I had been treating a part of the Bible like a Mr Squiggle picture. Mr Squiggle was a kids’ TV show I used to watch. Children throughout Australia would draw little random squiggles–a couple of lines or curves on a piece of paper–and mail them in to the TV network. During the show, Mr Squiggle–a marionette puppet with a pencil for a nose–would add extra lines and curves to the squiggle, from his own imagination, to transform it into a recognisable drawing of something nice for the young audience (a cat, a house, a bunny rabbit). It was riveting viewing. Really.
The Bible passage that I had been treating like a Mr Squiggle picture is John 13:34-35. Jesus says:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35, ESV)
Whenever I had read this passage in the past, I had (unconsciously) added my own little verbal squiggles to Jesus’ words in my head. I had assumed that Jesus was talking here about a straightforward, attractional church growth strategy. It’s as if Jesus had gone on to say:
And then, all people will come to realise that being my disciple is wonderful, and all people will want to join in your nice warm loving community. Therefore love one another, because this is part of my new mission strategy. (John 13:35-and-a-half, MSV [Mr Squiggle Version])
But in our home group Bible study recently, we’ve been looking more closely at John 13-17. Our leader asked us to look at this verse in its wider context. And what we found was not what I expected. When Jesus speaks these words, the atmosphere is charged with awkwardness and angst. Jesus has just “loved” his disciples in a ridiculous and bizarre way–by washing their feet (John 13:1-17). The foot-washing is a sign of things to come: it points to Jesus’ death on the cross, which is his ultimate act of love for the world, but which will seem bizarre and will involve rejection and ridicule. Peter thinks the foot-washing is ridiculous because it’s no way for a leader to behave. But Jesus tells the disciples to act the same way as he has done. They have to love like him–debasing themselves, sacrificing themselves, losing themselves for the sake of others. Then Jesus drops his biggest bombshell: he’s going to leave them (John 13:33)! But, Jesus says, even though he will no longer be around, if the disciples act like him–i.e. by crazy ridiculous love for one another–then this will mark them out as his disciples. And of course, since Jesus himself will be rejected by the world, the disciples will also be hated and rejected by the world for their crazy love:
These things I command you, so that you will love one another. If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (John 15:17-19, ESV)
Jesus’ love-command, then, is not a cuddly warm mission strategy telling us how to win the world’s approval. Our love for one another is to be like Jesus’ love for us. This is crazy love in the eyes of the world. It’s the kind of love that will get us hated. Jesus’ love is dangerous love.