April 5, 2012
A Vision to Bind Us Together
It would be quite an understatement to say that humanity struggles with division.
Sometimes it is hard to remain bound together as we walk in faith. This evening, on Maundy Thursday, we come to remember the Last Supper of Jesus and his disciples. In John’s telling of the Last Supper, Jesus offers A Vision to Bind Us Together.
John’s telling of the Last Supper covers five chapters (chapters 13 – 17) of his gospel, the longest continual story in any of the four gospels. The words of Jesus in this passage of Scripture contains his words a new command I give to you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another (13:34), which is the verse that gives us the name for Maundy Thursday – novum mandatum, or new commandment.
This is the vision Jesus gives to bind us together – love. Love was the foundation of everything Jesus said and did, and it was love that bound him to the cross. And it was his vision of love that bound together the disciples, a group that under normal circumstances would neither come together or be able to remain bound together.
As a group, the disciples were so different it would take a powerful vision to hold them together. There was Simon, very much a stranger to us. We do know he was a Zealot – one who was dedicated to the overthrow of Roman rule by any means necessary. Zealots hated the Romans. Matthew, who is more familiar to us, was a tax collector, which meant he worked for the Romans. How could Simon and Matthew walk together in this small band of followers of Jesus? Because they had a greater vision, a vision that bound them together, a vision of love. There was Peter, Andrew, James, and John, who were fishermen, and thus small businessmen. Perhaps Matthew was the one who collected their taxes. If not, they certainly resented what he represented as one who could tax them at almost any rate of his own choosing. The others may have been jealous or envious of the favored position of Peter, Andrew, James, and John. They are clearly the dominant members of the disciples, and of this inside group Peter is clearly the leader. Perhaps there was jealousy of his important role. Judas was known to take money from the moneybag held by the disciples (John 12:6), and it seemed to be an open secret, so this was surely a source of division among the group. James and John, on more than one occasion, asked Jesus for a place of preference in his kingdom (Mark 10:35-45), which did not sit well with the other disciples. Mark (10:41) tells us the other disciples were indignant about their grab for power. But it wasn’t just James and John. On at least one occasion (Luke 9:46) the disciples as a group argued among themselves as to which of them would be the greatest.
But though we read of these conflicts, they are mentioned only a few times. Considering the dramatic differences and divisions among the disciples, it is quite amazing we don’t read of them more often. The answer as to why the differences aren’t mentioned more, I believe, is very simple – in spite of the differences and in spite of the conflicts between the disciples there was a greater vision that bound them together. It was the vision Jesus gave of love. Jesus’ vision of love was one great enough to unite the disparate band of followers and remains the great vision that unites us today.
In our broken and divided world, the vision of love is still the answer that is needed. Love is powerful enough to bridge the divides among humanity, it is strong enough to heal divisions, and it is what is represented by these elements this evening.