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Unnatural Law

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. ~ John 15:12

The birds nesting in our backyard are quite vigilant these days. From their perspective, there are threats everywhere. There are still occasional skirmishes when a few of their kin attempt to claim the territory they’ve established. For the most part, the territorial boundaries are settled, but that doesn’t prevent thieves from sneaking off with food or nesting material (or eventually their eggs or nestlings). From our window, we have seen at least three nests being built, two Common Grackles and one American Robin. A Mourning Dove has been consistently perched on a particular branch that leads to suspicion of a nearby nest. There is a sort of detente apparent among these birds. The one-for-all support of the flock has now been clearly replaced by a fierce defense of the nuclear family. If it is fair to ascribe the term love to animals other than human, what is in evidence is a narrowing of the reach of love for these individuals. The biological demand to perpetuate the species makes the limiting of concern to the particular and demanding work of nesting necessary.

Humans have evolved the ability to reflect on our actions and thus to some extent rise above our biology. Still, the survival instinct persists and emerges, sometimes fiercely, when threats arise. Of course, the problem with threats is that we perceive them differently. This is on full display these days from trigger warnings to calling others snowflakes. The natural inclination is to withdraw into our silos. On one level, we are no different than any other creature, so protecting our families is a first-order moral good. When that baked in commandment narrows our focus to just us (and maybe not even “and those like us”) we risk our individual success by ignoring the necessity of community. Support the common good is not simply a lofty ideal, it has the practical impact of each benefiting from what benefits all. At minimum, we require enlightened self-interest. We need to live by laws that are not simply natural.

The fact that this is a hard lesson to learn is at the heart of Christ’s passion. During Holy Week, we see Jesus at the center of the gathering mass of humanity, supporters and opponents alike. He understands the risk of golden rule, that is, calling people to do unto others as you would have them do unto you comes at a cost. Jesus was willing to make that sacrifice. On the eve of paying that price, he had one last meal with his closest followers. There was no more time for cajoling, so he issued a commandment. Given the setting, it is fair to say that this is perhaps the most important thing Jesus had to say. If we are to follow just one of Jesus’ directives, logically it should be this one. And what was Jesus’ new commandment? That we should love one another as he has loved us. May it be so.

Prayer: Savior, wash not just my feet, but all of me. Then may I borrow your towel so I can obey your unnatural law and wash the feet of others. Amen.


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