The story is told about a woman who brought a very limp duck to the veterinarian. As she laid her pet on the table, the vet pulled out his stethoscope and listened to the bird’s chest. After a moment or two, the vet shook his head and sadly said, “I’m sorry, your duck, Cuddles, has passed away.”
The distressed woman wailed, “Are you sure?” “Yes, I am sure. Your duck is dead,” replied the vet. “How can you be so sure?” she protested. “I mean you haven’t done any testing on him or anything. He might just be in a coma or something.”
The vet sighed then turned around and left the room. He returned a few minutes later with a black Labrador retriever. As the duck’s owner looked on in amazement, the dog stood on his hind legs, put his front paws on the examination table and sniffed the duck from top to bottom. He then looked up at the vet with sad eyes and made a soft whimper.
The vet patted the dog on the head and took it out of the room. A few minutes later he returned carrying a cat. He set it on the table and it also delicately sniffed the bird from head to foot. Then the cat sat back on its haunches, meowed softly, jumped from the table and strolled out of the room.
The vet looked at the woman and said, “I’m sorry, I can tell you now that this is most definitely, 100% certifiably, a dead duck.” The vet turned to his computer terminal, hit a few keys and produced a bill, which he handed to the woman. The duck’s owner, still in shock, took the bill. “$150!” she cried, “$150 just to tell me my duck is dead!”
The vet shrugged, “I’m sorry. If you had just taken my word for it, the bill would have been $20, but with the Lab Report and the CAT scan, now it is $150.”
“It is most definitely, 100% certifiably, a dead duck.” How do we really know for sure? That’s the question that we ask about a lot of things. How do we really know? We hear people say things but how do we know they are telling us the truth? We want proof. This of course affects all of us in all sorts of different ways. This is why there are written guarantees—because we want something than simply spoken words. This is why we have civil court so that people who do not say what they mean in the commercial world are held responsible. It is not enough for something to be said—it needs to be demonstrated. This idea is not new is it? People have always wanted and needed proof to believe something difficult. People have always doubted the word of others. It is something that people have demanded since the time of Adam and Eve. And this is what being referred to in our Gospel lesson today as well. Jesus tells his disciples a new command, “by this everyone will know you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” We do not demonstrate our Christianity simply by what we say—no, it is by what we do. It is by how we live. It is by how we relate to each other—how we treat each other. That is the real proof isn’t it?
Jesus said to his disciples to love each other. The command to love one’s neighbor as oneself actually was not new. Love within the community was highly regarded at the Qumran community before Christ and neighbor love was also emphasized by first century Rabbi Hillel. So loving one’s neighbor as oneself while it was still revolutionary when Jesus taught it because he applied to everyone people came in contact with, still it did not remain distinctive. What was new, what was distinctive, what remains distinctive was Jesus’ command for his disciples to love one another as he has loved them. Jesus was not simply saying to love one another. In fact he was not simply telling them to love others as themselves. No, now he has added an entirely new level; we are to love as He loved us, he loved us with a sacrificial love, he loved us by laying down his life for us. Now this is the new standard. This rule of self-sacrificial, self-giving, selfless love inspired by Jesus’ own love for the disciples serves as the foundational ethic for the Christian community.
You see, one can say to others, “Oh, yes, I follow Jesus. I am his disciple. I am a Christian.” And to confess this is great. We can even know a lot of the Bible. We can attend church regularly. We can give money and help to those who are in need. All of that is good stuff, but what really sets us apart as real Christians is how we love one another, how we care for each other.
You see that is what Jesus did for us. He literally gave his life so that we could live. Scripture tells us that though he had no sin he gave himself as a sacrifice for our sins so that we could be reconciled to God. This is the greatest example of love. There is no greater love than that a man gives his life for his friends.
There is the true story of the Scottish solder named Angus who along with his company had been captured by the Japanese during WW2. The Argylls (Scottish soldiers) took their buddy system very seriously. Their buddy was called their “mucker,” and these Argylls believed that is was literally up to each of them to make sure their “mucker” survived. Angus’s mucker, though, was dying, and everyone had given up on him, everyone, of course, but Angus. He had made up his mind that his friend would not die. Someone had stolen his mucker’s blanket. So Angus gave him his own, telling his mucker that he had “just come across an extra one.” Likewise, every mealtime, Angus would get his rations and take them to his friend, stand over him and force him to eat them, again stating that he was able to get “extra food.” Angus was going to do anything and everything to see that his buddy got what he needed to recover. But as Angus’s mucker began to recover, Angus collapsed, slumped over, and died. The doctors discovered that he had died of starvation complicated by exhaustion. He had been giving of his own food and shelter. He had given everything he had even his very life.
It is this sort of love that we as Christians are to have. It is the love of self-sacrifice. This is the love that gives evidence that we are indeed followers of Jesus. In our Wednesday Bible Study we are looking at themes in 1 John. One of the primary themes is the necessity of love for one another. In 1 John it talks about how if we love we walk in the light. What this means is that since if we are in the light we know and can see where we are going, we know what we are doing because our eyes can see it. In the same way, if we love each other in a self-sacrificial way, we know how to act toward each other. In other words, since we know that love is patient, kind, not envious, arrogant nor rude. We know that love doesn’t insist on its own way; it is neither irritable nor resentful. Since we know these things we know how we are to behave towards each other. We may not feel like it but it is how as Christians we are to behave.
So how do we know for sure? How do we know if we are 100% certifiably real Christians? We do not need a lab test or a cat scan. We can look at our behavior. Does our behavior toward each other show kindness, patience, politeness? These are the marks of being Christian. This is the proof of our Christianity. Jesus loved us so much that he was willing to die even the death on a cross for us. Let us pray that God helps us to obey Jesus, to love each other and to persistently follow Him in the way that leads to eternal life. Amen