Acts 8: 5-8, 14-17; John 14: 15-21
Near the end of Beauty and the Beast, there is a scene where all the characters, the candlestick, the clock, piano, and all the rest realize that time no longer seems to be on their side and that this spell that they had been put under, hardening all of them, may soon be an eternal reality. They’re left wondering as to why, though, because they realize that the Beast has finally learned to love Belle and yet it hasn’t broken the spell. One of them comments that it wasn’t just about the Beast learning to love after living a life of using people for his own self-interest while looking down on others that he has seen as less than himself. However, it wasn’t just about the Beast learning to love Belle it was also about her loving in return. In those moments when time seems all but lost, hardness seems to be their fate.
Love tends to be a word that we throw around quite easily. As a matter of fact, in the world and culture we live it seems that we have grown much more accustomed to loving things and using people. It seems as if we love things that we can’t seem to live without but people can often become dispensable. In order for love to deepen, as couples that have been married for years can attest to, often comes from a great deal of sacrifice, letting go, and surrendering, in order to move beyond the superficialities that we often become attached to in relationship. It was the problem of the Beast. He loved what others had, how they looked, while growing more deeply hardened in his own heart that he was no longer open to this deeper love, until he finally has to let go of the one he had experienced love with in Belle.
This deeper love is where Jesus tries to move the disciples in their own call to discipleship as we move to some of the farewell discourse of Jesus in John’s Gospel. This message of love seems to go on for chapters in John’s gospel but even they won’t necessarily understand what it’s all about until they walk through it themselves. The experience of Jerusalem will do nothing but strip them of their own attachments and expectations of who this Jesus was and is. They will learn first-hand the depths of his love for them and us as they witness that love poured out on the Cross, where water and blood flow.
We know, first-hand ourselves, by our reading of Acts of the Apostles that they too move to this deeper place of love in their own lives, being freed of their own hardness and self-interest. As a matter of fact, they become more attuned to it in others and aren’t so quick to give it away, this Spirit of Truth that Jesus speaks. No, not even what we have made truth to be, facts and knowledge; but rather this deep knowing that love is all we need in our lives and it’s love that breaks that hardness, pursuing us until we surrender. They face that reality as they enter Samaria today and encounter a young man who wants what they have. His name is Simon the Magician. His story is smack dab in the middle of what we hear today with Philip but they find themselves leery of Simon. Like the Beast, he simply wants what they have for his own good, to make money and to use people, violating them in their own vulnerability. He wants power on what he sees that they are capable of but really not love. There is no mutuality in order for the love to grow, the give and take, and so they refuse. They lay hands on the rest of the community.
For them and for this who process of forming disciples, it was about keeping them connected to their center. In the everyday world it was about Jerusalem and the experience of love poured out on the cross, where their lives were transformed. But even for us it’s about finding that center within ourselves as love moves us to this deeper reality, leading us to the sacrificial love of letting go and surrendering. The more we allow love to move us to such deep places and to break through our own hardness, even if it doesn’t seem like time is on our sides, love still grows and frees.
As we move to these final weeks of the Easter season we live with the same challenge of recognizing and being aware of the places that remain hardened, entombed, in our own lives. Where are we not being open to receiving that love. We all know what it feels like when we’re rejected by people we have loved. We know what it’s like to hold grudges and hate, simply as a way to hold power over others, or so we think. We certainly live in a world and culture that thinks that’s the answer. We settle for war. We settle for violence, even in our own lives at times, all in the name of what we think is love. Like Beast and Belle, there is a mutuality to this deeper love in which we are called to be.
The call to discipleship and missionary disciples, going out as the early disciples we hear of in Acts of the Apostles, challenges us to evaluate our own lives and our own ability to receive and give this love. This season has been about conversion and transformation, to create space in our hearts to be open to such love and to begin to see people for who they are, fellow journeyers in this world, trying to make it work, and without a doubt, aware of their own deepest longing to love and to be loved in return. It is the tale as old as time, not only for Beast and Belle, but for each of us. Over time we have a tendency to become complacent and crusty, hardened as the characters were in that story. But we do believe in a God that never stops pursuing us and never stops breaking through that hardness, realizing we are never but satisfied by anything but love. It may not come in the ways we expect or even want at times, but without a doubt, no matter what remains unfinished in our own lives can be transformed by and into love.