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Lectionary Reflection

Year B, Easter 6
Episcopal (Standard) Lectionary – Revised Common Lectionary
Gospel Reading

John 15: 9-17
 

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: 'He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.'  Now I have told you."

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. "Greetings," he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."

 

Reflection on Readings for Year B, Easter 6
by John G Gibbs, PhD

A remarkable event, as described by journalist Peter Baker, was reported on p. A01 of the Washington Post on April 4, 2003. That event is sequel to a wrong turn that an American convoy made on March 23 south of Nasiriyah, Iraq.

The Army’s 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company had dispatched this convoy into the desert to maintain and repair our fast-moving invading tanks and personnel carriers. But the convoy made a wrong turn, came under attack by Saddam’s Fedayeen militia, sustained several casualties, 5 soldiers were captured, and 7 were missing in action.

PFC Jessica Lynch returned fire, but both her legs and one arm were broken, and there was a fracture in her back, so she was among the captured. Her captors took her to a hospital in Nasiriyah. It is there that a 32-year old Iraqi attorney named Mohammed found her when he stopped by to see his wife, a nurse in that hospital.

Mohammed is a Shiite Muslim who noticed security guards at the hospital, inquired why, and happened to look through a glass interior window just when a black-clad Iraqi man was slapping around this young woman American soldier. After the Iraqi attacker left her, Mohammed sneaked in and said to Jessica: “Don’t worry, don’t worry,” for he was going to get help.

He then walked 6 miles to find American marines, and to convince them that he had really found this American prisoner of war. The marines prevailed on him despite the grave danger to return twice in 2 days to the hospital to reconnoiter the situation. He found 41 Fedayeen there, and then drew 5 maps (and his wife added another map) of the interior. Within 5 days of Mohammed’s report and mapping of escape routes, a Special Operations force under cover of darkness swooped down in Black Hawk helicopters, quickly located Jessica Lynch, and spirited her away to one of our field hospitals.

Why did Mohammed do it, despite the huge risks he took? Remembering what he saw through the interior window, he said simply “My heart is cut.” Later to the Marines who had also rescued Mohammed, his wife and daughter, he added about Jessica Lynch: “She would not have lived. It is very important.”

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Thankfully Mohammed’s life was not taken when he risked everything for someone whom he had never known, someone who was not even a friend but a stranger. He is neither a Christian nor a Jew but a Muslim, who had deep within him the truth that Jesus spoke: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

The command to love bespeaks the structure of the universe. The world was made in such a way that it depends on love. Neither humanity nor the nature that supports us can survive unless chaotic destruction be contained and reverse by those who invest their lives for the sake of others. Jesus’ self-giving bears fruit anew whenever one gives to another this greatest love. All things are held together (Col. 1:17) by this commandment, this order, this structure of existence: “that you love one another as I have loved you.”

This kind of love is not an action that can be isolated or set apart from any human relationship. Love is not confined to interpersonal relations, though we may most readily recognize some of its features there. Love is indispensable also for social interactions, and even for forgiveness in politics. [See a recent book on that by Donald Shriver. Instructive also is the in-depth analysis by Paul Tillich, Love, Power and Justice (New York: OUP, 1954).]

There is in Africa a social ideal called “Ubuntu.” In the late 1980s and early 1990s Ubuntu defied prevailing predictions of civil war and chaos breaking out in South Africa. After the horrendous struggles between white and black cultures within South Africa, and during the presidency of Nelson Mandela, there was established (under the leadership of Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu) the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Its objective was to air the ugly truth from all sides in such a way that neither vengeance nor retribution was sought, but instead the aim would be reconciliation. Amnesty was granted in exchange for full disclosure. The repatriation that would concretely express reconciliation has yet to be fulfilled, but the TRC’s work is widely credited even so with having staved off catastrophe by seeking Ubuntu.

The Constitution of South Africa includes recognition of “a need for understanding but not for vengeance, a need for reparation but not for retaliation, a need for ubuntu but not for victimization” [Anthony Sampson, Mandela (NY: Knopf, 1999), p. 521].  Ubuntu is a matter of love, for it expresses interconnection, interdependence, compassion, and mutual care.  “A person is a person because of other people,” is a saying that illustrates Ubuntu.

In his book about the TRC, Desmond Tutu writes: “A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others,” and can live in that way “from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed…” [No Future Without Forgiveness (NY: Doubleday Image Book, 1999), p. 31.

Love relates. It breaches every wall of hostility. It cannot be fenced in against its need to reach out and create relations. As such, love relates humanity to nature with care and foresight. Love motivates personal gardener and legislative body alike to care for the earth, to guard against global warming, to nurture species, and to safeguard the wealth of the creation for all future generations of humans and other species.

The philosopher, and student of physics and mathematics and botany, Holmes Rolston, III, is the 2003 recipient of the Templeton Prize in Religion. Whether he has or has not heard the word ubuntu, Rolston has lived it in relation to the natural world no less than in relation to fellow human beings. “After we learn altruism for each other,” he says, “we need to become altruists toward our fellow creatures.”  Further: “Plants and animals have a good of their own, and that good is present independently of human interests, concerns and affairs. Humans can use nature as a resource, but we have a duty and an obligation to respect and consider these intrinsic values.” [Reported by The Ottawa Citizen, 3-20-03].

Holmes Rolston said this to the Templeton Foundation: “I’m more convinced than ever that nature is grace, that nature is value-laden. This life-abundant Earth is a wonderland. But I’ll never argue my humanist philosophical and theological critics into this conviction until they spend more time in the back country.”

“No greater love…”

Printable version

 

To Reflections on other Readings for Year B, Easter 6

Reflections available at the active links
Standard (Episcopal)
Lectionary
Revised Common
Lectionary
First Reading:
Acts 11:19-30 or
Isaiah 45:11-13,18-19
Acts 10: 44-48
Psalm
Psalm 33 or 33:1-8,18-22
Second Reading:
1 John 4: 7-21 or
Acts 11:19-30
1 John 5: 1-6
Gospel
John 15: 9-17
(this page)
John 15: 9-17
(this page)

 

John Gibbs, PhD, a retired theologian, resided in Park Rapids, MN, when he originally wrote this reflection in 2003. He and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to John Gibbs or any MEESC member, or mail them to:


MEESC
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