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Community and Compulsion

I’ve been thinking a lot about love and community lately. We all have seasons in life when community is easier to find, and seasons when it is more difficult. But essentially, whatever our situation, entering into community is about taking a risk. It’s a risk to open yourself up to others, a risk to be vulnerable, and a risk to enter into another person’s mess.

And here’s the thing, the risk doesn’t always pay off. Sometimes the person you were vulnerable with proves untrustworthy, sometimes entering into another person’s mess leads to getting taken advantage of.

Earlier this season, in a Detroit Tigers baseball game, Victor Martinez (a.k.a. V-Mart) scored a run from second on a single from Yoenis Cespedes. V-Mart was never the fastest runner, is now in his mid-thirties, had an off-season knee surgery, and had just tweaked the same knee a few days earlier: speed is not his thing. He only made it home because J.D. Martinez, another player on the team, got caught in a run-down between second and third and the opposing players didn’t have time to throw V-Mart out.

J.D. is a good hitter and a good runner. Had he been the one on second base he could have easily made it home in time. Instead, though, he got tagged. J.D. was out because of Victor’s issues as a runner.

In His final message to His disciples, recorded by the apostle John in his Gospel, Jesus lays it out on love, community, and risk: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (15:12-13).

I kind of love how Jesus doesn’t equivocate at all. “This is my commandment,” He says. It’s not optional. “Greater love has no one than this,” He says. It’s pretty absolute language.

There’s more to that story with J.D. and V-Mart. J.D. was standing on first base during the at-bat and asked the coach there, “If they send him [around third base to score], are we going?” The coach replied, “Yeah, go, get in a pickle.”

Maybe J.D. wasn’t out because of V-Mart’s issues as a runner. Maybe J.D. was out because the coach commanded it. He entered Victor’s mess because he was ordered to do so…and because he obeyed that command.

Pride says that we shouldn’t try to enter someone else’s mess. Pride says we shouldn’t try to be vulnerable. Pride warns that we’ll only get hurt—we’ll only get left, running along the baseline—and it isn’t worth the embarrassment. But pride is opposed to love. It is practically impossible for the two to exist simultaneously in our hearts. And Jesus said that the greatest love we could have is to lay ourselves down for our friends.

The most beautiful thing about those two verses in John is that they carry the tension of our responsibility to be obedient followers of Christ and the freedom we have as Christians to make our own decisions. Jesus gives a command, but in the next breath, He makes a statement that provides us the opportunity to choose to live as He did. We could follow the command with an attitude of slavery, “loving” each other dutifully, doing all the things we’re supposed to do as members of the body of Christ. But to lay down my life for my friends takes more than attention to duty. Something deeper is the compulsion there.

Love and community are inextricably intertwined. True community says, “I’m going to choose to take that risk and be vulnerable. I’m going to choose to take that risk and enter your mess. I am going to choose to love.”

J.D. Martinez got asked about that run-down by a reporter after the game and his reply was tinged with that beautiful compulsion that comes from true community. “I had to do that,” he said. “We all know [Victor] isn’t the fastest guy, especially now that he’s dealing with an injury. We couldn’t give them a chance to throw home.”

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