Here’s one of my favorite childhood folk tales:
A farmer went to town to sell his produce and returned with a large pot of treasures. His family and relatives gathered around him to hear the story of his windfall of fortune. He said, “As I walked through the forest on my way back, I heard someone groaning in a cave. I entered the cave and saw a dying tiger with a massive infected wound on his arm.
“I had pity on him, so I used my first aid kit to bind his wound and gave him water to drink. Since it was getting dark, I stayed with him overnight. The next day, he got better and gave me this pot of treasures to express his gratitude.”
Feeling envious, his brother’s wife inquired about the cave’s location and asked her husband to find the place and try his luck. The next day, he went and found the cave. Surprisingly, he heard the tiger groaning inside, so he went in and saw the dying tiger just like his brother had told them.
Smelling the infected would, he thought, “Yuck! My brother didn’t tell me that the wound was so stinky.” He reluctantly bound the wound, hoping to get the reward as his brother did. He slept in the cave dreaming about returning home with a treasure pot. The next day, the tiger got better and ate him for breakfast.
This story is based on Taoist philosophy calling for multilayers of interpretations. On the surface, it teaches people that you cannot copy someone’s success by superficially duplicating what they do. At a deeper level, the elder brother’s action stems from his sincere love for the wounded and suffering animal. Motive matters!
Then if we reach even deeper, it teaches us that nature reads your motive and rewards your heart over your action.
Chinese adults tell fables like these to teach children to cultivate morality. However, for those who love to think deeper, these stories serve as tools for spiritual development, much like Jesus’ parables.
We can look at the story as a lesson on how love can transform nature. It’s natural for people to fear a tiger, and it’s natural for the tiger to eat a human. If we are authentic, we cannot naturally love our enemies. When Jesus asked us to love our enemies, he asked us to rise above authenticity.
The culture today glorifies authenticity. In the name of expressing themselves, they gratify their authentic feelings. They can be rude and say, “I am just being authentic.” Paul said that we are supposed to tell the truth in love. Telling the truth sounds authentic, but without love, the truth becomes a weapon to hurt rather than to heal.
The Bible says that our authentic nature is a fallen nature. John Calvin called it “Total Depravity.” If I am authentic, I rather eat ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If we are authentic, we cannot love the way Jesus wants us to love. The way Jesus wants us to love is not transactional but transformational. It requires us to sacrifice our authenticity.
In the story, the younger brother is authentic. His love for the tiger is a pretense—a transactional deed. The tiger was also authentic when he ate the low-hanging fruit. His elder brother was not authentic. He went beyond his instinct to love the tiger. The tiger was not authentic when he rewarded his prey. Touched by love, he has risen above his authenticity.
In this week’s scripture lesson, Jesus gave us a new commandment to love one another. If you read the Old Testament, you would find that to love one another is not something new. So, why did Jesus call it a new commandment? He said this the night before he went to the cross, and he prayed that night:
“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” (Mat 26:39).
This prayer shows that if Jesus were authentic, he wouldn’t go to the cross—he would rather not drink this bitter cup. Yet, he went to the cross to fulfill God’s will—not his own will. Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy will be done,” because God’s will is not just a high road but a higher road that requires us to rise above authenticity.
Today, we will explore how to take a higher road of “Thy will be done” in our cultural norm of “My will be done.” Let’s begin!
[Hi! In case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone—the Lightkeeper. You are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you, and you are satisfied in God.]
Today is the Fifth Sunday of Easter, and the scripture lesson is from the Gospel according to John 13:31-35. [Listen to the Word of the Lord.]
When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:31–35).
[This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!]
Let’s begin with the context. Jesus had the last supper with his disciples, and Judas left the table to betray him. Judas will soon return with soldiers to arrest Jesus. The departure of Juda sealed Jesus’ fate. So, he gave his last words to his disciples before the authority came to arrest him.
When he (Judas) had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. (John 13:31).
Glorification is the highest stage of spiritual transformation. There are three stages of Christian life: Justification, Sanctification, and Glorification.
Justification is when you believe you are saved by the grace of Jesus Christ, not your self-righteousness. All you have to do is believe. You are justified by your faith through grace. No human being can do enough good to justify themselves to go to haven. It’s a free give from God’s amazing grace. It’s not what you do but who God is. God loves you the way you are.
After Justification, there comes Sanctification. God loves you the way you are, but God loves you too much to leave you the way you are. Sanctification means becoming a saint. God saves the sinners and turns them into saints. This growing phase is called Sanctification.
Since we are all believers, we have passed Justification, and we are in the phase of Sanctification. Just like going to the gym, we stretch our limits of authenticity and reach for a higher level of fitness. Jesus said his words sanctify us. That means regular reading of his words will push our boundaries.
If you stay authentic, you cannot be sanctified because, as fallen beings, authenticity means staying sinful. If I’m authentic, I’d rather eat sweets. If I am a pig, it’s authentic for me to play in the mud. However, Jesus loves us the way we are, but he loves us too much to leave us the way we are.
Jesus used the metaphor of pruning a tree to make it bear much fruit. Pruning can be painful, but the outcome is fruitful.
Finally, we will reach Glorification when we fully display God’s glory in us after being wholly sanctified. It’s like beauty and perfection. Sometimes, we look at a beautiful day and say, “What a glorious day!” Imagine what it is like for people to say about you, “What a glorious person.”
Glorification is our original state before the fall. People ask why Adam and Even were not shameful even though they were naked before the fall. The reason is they were covered by God’s glory. King David wrote in his Psalm:
“Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.” (Ps 8:5).
The word “crowned” is translated from a Hebrew word that also means “surround” or “encompass.” That means their nakedness is invisible because they are in a state of glorification. Their lives revealed God’s glory. That’s the state we can ultimately attain, if not in this life, but definitely after we die because we are justified.
I often say that the Christian life is like being in a class where the teacher says, “Every one of you will get an A at the end of this semester. All you have to do is to try your best.” When you know you are getting an A at the end, you have no stress about stretching your capacity. In the same way, since Glorification is guaranteed, Sanctification is a joy to attempt.
Now, this leads back to Jesus talking about his glorification. We might think Jesus’ glorification is revealed in his resurrection since the risen Lord would definitely look glorious. However, John doesn’t emphasize his resurrection at all. He wrote about it briefly. John describes Jesus’ glory on the cross.
From the beginning of his Gospel, John described Jesus as the “Lamb of God.” The glorious moment is when he displayed his love on the cross for the salvation of humanity. For John, Good Friday is more glorious than Easter Sunday. After all, without Good Friday, there is no Easter Sunday.
Jesus is glorified by glorifying God. We know that John’s Gospel reads like quantum physics from the very beginning. Jesus said in the next verse,
“If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.” (John 13:32).
So, it’s just like quantum physics. You glorify God, and you are glorified at once. The starting point is the same as the ending point. It’s fascinating. Without quantum physics, we might have a harder time understanding this.
Someone once told me, “I don’t want to worship a God that wants me to worship Him.” He startled me with the statement. He sounded arrogant from a believer’s perspective. Then, I tried to see it from his angle, and it seemed to make sense. Why would God wants us to worship him? Doesn’t God sound selfish, self-centered, egoistic, and self-glorification?
The answer is both simple and profound: when we glorify God, we are glorified. We are created to glorify God, so only when we glorify God are we glorified. Paul said,
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Php 2:8–11).
The cross is the ultimate display of love. It’s not authenticity because he would rather not do it if it was possible, and he had nothing to lose for not doing it. It’s also not a pretense like the younger brother in the story because there is no ulterior motive for him to gain anything since he already had everything. His love is transformational, not transactional. With his life as an example, Jesus said,
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (John 13:34).
The key phrase here is “just as I have loved you.” He loves us like the elder brother who bound the wound of the dying tiger, entirely out of love and without any expectation from us. Jesus’ story is a little different from the fable. He bound our wounds, and we ate him. We are authentic as fallen beings. However, his reward came from God. God glorified him because he glorified God.
Now he has given us a new commandment because he has set a new standard of love. We are not to love to be loved or to be rewarded. We are to love as a higher ideal than our authenticity. It’s called glorification. That glorification comes from glorifying God by loving one another. Jesus said,
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35).
Jesus said being a Christian is not because we belong to a church or are a member of a Christian organization. Jesus wants us to be identified by having the ambition to stretch our spiritual muscles to reach the highest ideal of being, not the being of the status quo.
Paul’s definition of love has nothing to do with the fallen nature of human beings:
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Co 13:4–8a).
Every now and then, we need to read this passage. The best is to memorize it. Each time I read this, it humbles me. I discover I am so far from this standard of Jesus’ disciple. Sometimes, I don’t even want to look at it because it makes me feel like a failure. When we forget this ideal, we become proud of being authentic.
Jesus does not want us to be authentic but idealistic. Paul said, without love, we are nothing,
“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Co 13:1–3).
Without love, all these human ambitions and achievements are vanity. If this pandemic wakes us up to reality, Paul said only three things are real.
“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Co 13:13).
Authenticity sounds like reality, but the former is temporal, and the latter eternal. Let’s live Jesus’ new commandment and let God be glorified in us so that we are glorified in him.
That’s it for today. I hope you find this message illuminating as much as I enjoy receiving it from the Head Office. Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader, and harvest the fruit of profound happiness.