At a recent conference, I had a lovely conversation with a nun (first time for me) and asked her what the hardest thing about her vocation is.
'Oh that's easy,' she replied, 'it's being forced to live with and love people you would never choose to spend time with.'
This, I'm coming to increasingly see, is the essence of Jesus' type of community, and it's annoying. I would much prefer to spend all my time with people who were like me, who shared my interests, sense of humour, personality etc. The kind of people you don't have to work at loving, it just comes naturally because when you look at them you see yourself reflected back.
Unfortunately, it seems Jesus has other ideas. It is both what I read about him in the Bible and my own experience that, as far as he's concerned, the more different and contrary the people in one of his communities, the better.
I mean, just take a look at the first one. You had an occupying-government-complicit tax collector, a political anarchist, a few uneducated fishermen (two of whom were convinced they were better than everyone else), a sceptic, a compulsive liar and a leader who didn't know his backside from his elbow. Not exactly the Avengers.
But, there's method in the madness, and it all comes together in something Jesus said to his misfits towards the end of his life:
'Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.'
It's easy to love people you get on with. When there's nothing to forgive, no arguments, no differences of opinion to contend with, no personality clashes then spending time with people is easy. In fact, everyone does that, whatever they believe or don't believe. But Jesus' way, as ever, is different. He says that real love comes from the mess of feeling what someone else feels who feels differently to you (?), putting yourself in someone else's rather uncomfortable looking shoes and most most most importantly, learning to forgive.
Not easy, but that's why followers of Jesus call themselves apprentices. We're learning his way, we've signed up to his course on the UCAS form. Jesus is the teacher and his class room is the community.
But it's still definitely the most annoying commandment.
Accredited Baptist minister James Karran is the Cardiff based leader of a new monastic community called Llan. Persevering pioneer, lover of metaphor, spiritual questor, determined stumbler, seeker of all things brave.
To read more semi-heretical thoughts and musings, check out the Llan blog: http://llan-community.org.uk/blog/
Related: Teaching without noise of words