“What the World Needs Now”

April 1, 2021

Maundy Thursday (from “mandatum” = commandment; referring to the new commandment to love Jesus gave to his disciples after the Last Supper)

“What the World Needs Now,” was a hit song in the late 1960’s. Composed by Burt Bacharach and made popular by Jackie DeShannon, its lyrics by Hal David were:

Lord, we don’t need another mountain. There are mountains and hillsides enough to climb,

Oceans and rivers enough to cross, Enough to last until the end of time.

What the world needs now is love, sweet love, That’s the only thing that there’s just too little of,

What the world needs now is love, sweet love, No not just for some, but for everyone.

The lyrics for this song were inspired by the controversy among Americans regarding the Vietnam War. Our society was thirsty for a word and song to lift us from disagreement.

The world today is a vastly different place than it was in 1960’s. Dozens of world-changing events have occurred: the Vietnam war, Iran hostage crisis, Chernobyl nuclear explosion, Tiananmen Square massacre, the fall of the Berlin Wall, 9/11, Enron, Columbine, Iraq War, Sandy Hook, the Arab Spring, and now Covid-19, to name just a few. No corner of the world has been untouched by crisis.

Back in the 60’s some thought that to change the world all you needed was a song and a happy spirit. So, with bell bottoms and big hair we sang “All You Need Is Love.” “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” and “Love the One You’re With” and “Come on, people, smile on your brother and love one another right now.” Today we’re living in a world that is not as simple as it seemed when those songs were being sung.

Of course, the world still needs love today. When hasn’t it? The real question is, “What kind of love does this world need?” Is it a parental love? Is it patriotic love? Could we agree on what kind of love the world needs?

This is Maundy Thursday when Christians worldwide recall Jesus in Jerusalem keeping the Passover and giving his followers a new commandment. After his last supper and prior to his arrest and crucifixion, Jesus announced that one of them would betray him. Then, the Bible tell us this:

“When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 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.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:33–35

Based on Jesus’ command, doesn’t it seem like a reprise of Bacharach and David’s hit song is in order?

A few years ago I was in Israel where divisions between Jews and Palestinians are deep and walls are high. Literally, 30' high concrete walls are being built to divide and contain people based on their ethnic and religious identities. Bethlehem is a walled off city. That charming Christmas carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem” doesn’t portray the cold reality surrounding it today. Adjacent to Jerusalem, Bethlehem is in Palestine. People there and in the surrounding territory live with fear of violence from between warring parties on both sides of the wall. Despite the incredible biblical history of that area, there is a deep need for love. But what kind of love? The Israelis in power in Jerusalem will tell you they are justified in taking land granted to Palestinians and building settlements cities on it, because they love their country and their heritage and they believe that God gave them that land out of love.

The world does need love today. But what kind? Is it love of religion? News reports every day bring us stories of people who love their extreme understanding of religion so much, that they strap bombs to themselves and blow up people of other religions; or they keep their church doors open during a pandemic.

The world needs love without bounds, without limits. We need the love that flows from a good and gracious God who we know chiefly in Jesus.

In this world the problem is not that we don’t love, but that when we do, we love too narrowly. We embrace God loving us. But too often we don’t advance and share that love beyond that those most familiar to us.

What the world needs now is love that pushes us outward toward all our neighbors everywhere. What the world needs now is parents and grandparents who love their kids and teach them to love all people. What the world needs now is patriots who love not only their national families, but the family of humanity. What the world needs is people of faith whose faith insists on loving those of other religions, even those whose love for their religion brings division and hardship upon others. What the world needs now is people across the globe dedicated to ending injustices that divide us.

You know, we Americans live under the assumption that if everybody just looks after themselves, their own family and take care of their own backyard, then everything will be fine. It is true, when people are individually irresponsible it impacts others. We’re learning that keenly in this time of pandemic. But it’s also true every day that the welfare of the world’s children is inseparable from the welfare of your own children. The welfare of your children is inseparable to the welfare of the children in places like walled-off Bethlehem.

From time to time I hear people tell me that things are so good in their lives. The job is moving along, income is increasing, the kids are doing well in school, retirement plans are shaping up, health is good. Life is just fine for some folks. It’s great when life is good. However, too often such independent happiness doesn’t translate into a passion for extending that goodness to people who don’t have it good in the same ways.

Jesus words from the night before his crucifixion ring in my mind: I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

What the world needs now is for all who claim to be Christian, to love as Christ loves. In his short life on this earth Jesus showed in action and attitude an encompassing love for all. He showed us that the love God wants all the world to know, is a love that is truly boundary-free.

We sometimes fool ourselves. We think that if I have my life in order, I have done my part and I have no obligation to you or to the world at large. But the longer I live and the more I see the world, I realize that life doesn’t divide into mine and yours, or even us and them. The connections between us and all the human family runs too deep; the interrelationships are too extensive. The way I live here in Wisconsin and the USA, the way we do business, the way we raise our children and shape them to be stewards and citizens of the world, absolutely must do justice to the ultimate unity of life.

Later on, this Maundy Thursday night Jesus prayed to God for his followers: “that they may be one as we are one” (John 17:22).

What the world needs now is love, sweet love, advanced though our actions and attitudes for all people, in the ways of Jesus.

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Kurt Jacobson

Author of “Living Hope” & “Welcoming Grace.” Lutheran preacher (retired) but still writing to inspire and aim for a world of mercy, love and respect.