In today’s reading from John’s gospel, Jesus is trying to prepare and comfort the disciples for what is coming. He knows what he is about to face at the hands of the empire, and he has done what he can to prepare the disciples so that they will continue in faith and not lose all hope. They will forget what he has told him, but I cannot say that I blame them. What Jesus says is startling; the world will no longer see Jesus, but the disciples will; and, he is leaving them with an advocate, the Spirit of Truth that will be in and with them. It is a frightening message… and as we know, the disciples do not understand where Jesus is going, or what’s going on. I’m sure they know that things are getting more and more dangerous.
The other thing that Jesus talks about in this short lesson is love. Love God and your neighbor, love one another as Jesus has loved; these are his commandments and they are just as true for us as they were for the disciples. What does it look like to love as Jesus loved?
I think most of us could probably use a refresher course. Fortunately for us, we get one every Sunday. Our prayers during the Eucharist help us to remember what it means to love as Jesus loved.
I cannot get the story of Jordan Neely out of my mind. Jordan was a young man who was on a Subway in New York, and was apparently acting in ways that made people uncomfortable. One witness’s account says that Jordan threw his jacket on the ground and was yelling that he was tired of being homeless and in need. Honestly, I think that was a reasonable response to his situation. He was homeless and as a result was dependent upon others for food, shelter and other life necessities that most of us take for granted. According to witnesses, he was not threatening anyone on the train. He was yelling. People were uncomfortable. A former Marine decided to take matters into his own hands, and placed Jordan in a choke hold that resulted in Jordan’s death. In the video there are 2 other men who are holding Jordan down.
I have so many questions. The men who held him down may have figured out that Jordan had some mental health issues. They knew he was homeless. He was also unarmed and was not threatening anyone. He was upset and needed to be heard. The three men who had physical contact were white; Jordan was black. Some fourth person was videoing the event rather than helping. No one that I saw tried to stop this horrific event.
The man who held Jordan in a choke hold has finally been charged. It’s up to a Jury to decide now what happened and what is just. Here’s the thing, Jordan Neely and others like him have been portrayed by various people and news stations as dangerous. Some have called for tent camps. They have called people crackheads and used other terms to make people the “outcast other”.
I’m not here to support a political idea. What I have to say about this is the following: We are marked in baptism and sealed by the Holy Spirit as Christ’s own forever. As disciples, if we are watching or listening to programs that call ANYONE or any people something that makes them “less than” the rest of us, we need to stop supporting that program or that person. We carry the Holy Spirit within us; and that should make us careful and mindful of what we say and do, and where we accept authority from. How did Jesus love? Well, one way was to feed the hungry and another way was to go out to the very margins of society and bring those who we have made unloveable, into citizens of God’s kingdom. In this new creation brought on by Easter’s miracle of the resurrection, Jordan Neely would not be an outsider; he would not be hungry. In this new creation, he is certainly loved by God as we all are; but those others on the subway with him certainly didn’t see him that way. Because society sees someone like Jordan as a threat, he suddenly becomes a threat needing to be contained.
In last week’s gospel, Jesus told us not to be afraid and to believe in him. This week he tells us even though he will not be seen, there will be another advocate in his place. The Holy Spirit is being sent to us as our advocate. Perhaps that means that WE should be advocates for those on the margins whom Jesus loves. Who are the Jordan Neely’s in our lives? What must we do to love them as Jesus loves them?