In Dostoevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamozov, a wealthy woman asks an elderly monk how she can know God exists. He reveals to her that no explanation or argument can achieve this—only the practice of 'active love.’ She confesses that she sometimes dreams of a life of loving service to others. During such times, she thinks she may even become a Sister of Mercy who lives in holy poverty and serves the poor in the humblest way. But, then a thought crosses her mind. Some of the people she would serve could be ungrateful. They would probably complain that the soup she served wasn’t hot enough, the bread wasn’t fresh enough or their bed was too hard. The wealthy woman confesses that she couldn’t bear such ingratitude—and so her dream about serving others vanishes and she once again finds herself wondering if there is a God.
Love in practice is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to the love in our dreams.*
Loving well may be the goal of Christian discipleship. Loving others is easier in our dreams than loving others in the reality of our daily active practice. Love requires us to grow into emotionally mature adults. Love demands we empty ourselves of preconceived notions and unrealistic expectations. It challenges us to deeply examine our motivations and understand that loving others is a long term commitment which transforms us. We readily forget death comes along during the transformation process. We die in order to live. It is in emptying ourselves we find true love.
Jesus demonstrates this in John 13. I suspect the disciples were hi-fiving and living the dream. They were in Jerusalem with Jesus for the Passover. They just celebrated Jesus riding into the capital city as a long awaited king. So, this dinner party was their celebration too. After all, the disciples were postulating as to who would get elevated positions in this new kingdom Jesus would elaborately establish. Imagine the banter and celebration of the Twelve. High on life. Their dreams coming into focus. And then Jesus does something radical.
"It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” John 13:1-5 NIV
Allowing their assumptions to be displayed, Jesus modeled how to truly love someone by serving them not only during the awkward moments at their last supper but right to the moment of his death on the cross. Assumptions misrepresent reality. I am certain the disciples had already mapped out where their new offices would be and picked out their color schemes. Most of their hidden assumptions were revealed as their Thursday evening dinner joy would turn to terror, horror and desperation as the hour would come for Jesus to fulfill his ministry.
One of the greatest gifts the church can offer is a community dedicated to loving well. May you find yourself empty kneeling next to Jesus as you practice loving well.
"he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:7-8 NIV
*Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: It’s Impossible to be Spiritually Mature while Remaining Emotionally Immature. Peter Scazzero.