Call it the golden rule,
if you like.
Love your neighbour
as you love yourself.
Treat others with respect
Try to feel their pain,
Your enemies, too;
Nothing else, really;
the other rules pale,
insignificant by comparison.
love your neighbour.
Heart, soul, mind and strength.
No, not easy;
Often. But no,
there is nothing else.
Determined, defiant, deliberate,
A new telling
from the lips of one
who is himself a new telling.
A word, a message unexpected,
a love-letter declaration of commitment
and embrace from above.
A new telling by which the man calls his friends
to generosity and joyous sacrifice.
“You’ve heard it said,” he sometimes taught,
“But now I’m telling you. . .
Now I’m telling you
that if you’re going to stay my friends
then you will have to look a bit ridiculous,
you have to love,
you have to give.”
A new telling,
to up-end creation
re-fashion human relationships
and make the powers shudder.
A new telling; unexpected and difficult,
but then, he’s not asking you to do anything
that he wouldn’t do himself.
To make the point even more inescapable,
the teller stretches out his arms,
writes the word on the parchment of his skin,
and underlines it with his blood.
Mandates are much claimed by politicians,
who will make the most obscure policy
into a democratically driven demand;
when it suits them.
Jesus left only one mandate,
the new instruction,
a rule to live by;
it is no command of convenience.
Four letters. The word staggers
and stumbles, limping
through the centuries
having been often laid aside,
and subject to multiple levels of abuse
by the self assured and righteous.
Still it persists, emerging defiantly
to confront and confound
whenever the servant-man’s story is told
A mandate for disciples,
a call to love
coming from one who lays down his life.
One hardly needs to be reminded
of its uncomfortable implications.
“By this the world will know that you follow me,”
he says, having completed his servant task
with towel and basin of water.
By this! By his impractical command
all who come after him are expected to be known.
They stroke their chins in bewilderment,
while we, centuries on, echo their puzzlement:
couldn’t we just have a badge
or a tee-shirt or something?
The first thing they will do
is try to make you doubt
yourself and your calling.
They will ask you questions;
make it seem that there is one set
of correct answers,
and that these are all-important,
mistakes will be penalised
and your relationship to eternal life
will be at risk should you fail to make the grade.
They are wrong.
Faithfulness is not about getting a pass
on an orthodoxy exam,
but the way that you hear
the commandment to love,
and how that idea takes form and flesh,
flowing through your waking hours
to give shape to your deeds,
your words and your thoughts.
One thing, this thing
we are expected to get right;
everything else is grace.
If they try to tell you otherwise
don’t believe them;
laugh in their faces.
We all heard the reports and the rumours.
It seems he was from Nazareth,
“Centre of intellectual enquiry
and religious education,”
we had joked among ourselves.
We went down together,
to the temple precinct, to see for ourselves.
We weren’t the only ones.
Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians,
and fellow scribes
keen to bring him down a notch or two.
My colleagues entered the fray
with great enthusiasm, but I stood back.
I watched, I listened.
I was impressed.
Amid the grunts and snorts of all the scoffers
he spoke confidently, with passion,
and seemed concerned for the truth.
After the others had finished,
and retreated, muttering,
to devise new riddles,
I stepped forward, and respectfully asked
him to name the greatest commandment.
He quoted two laws about love;
of our duty to God and to neighbour.
I heard the candour in his voice;
saw the joy in his eyes.
I smiled. We talked,
nodding our heads in agreement;
and he told me I was close
to God’s kingdom. I smiled again,
and let him have the last word.
I wasn’t looking for,
didn’t need his seal of approval,
but I took it.