“A NEW COMMANDMENT”
Acts 14:21-27; Rev 21:1-5; John 13:31-33,34-35
The context of our gospel text is thus: Judas has just left the Last Supper (Jn 13:30). Then, Jesus says, “Now is the Son of Man Glorified.” Jesus realizes that the departure of Judas is going to put into motion the events that will reveal the Son and the Father in their glory. Through the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus we are going to see God’s love, justice, mercy and grace in a brighter light than it has ever been seen before. God will be glorified through the events that are about to take place. Then Jesus tells his band of followers that He is going away. They are soon going to be on their own. All the training that they have been receiving has been leading up to these days. They were going to be set free to fly on their own.
With this in mind, Jesus gives them an important principle—a new commandment. Jesus gives them something that would help them in their work. He says, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (13:34-35). Jesus calls his commandment: A NEW COMMANDMENT. That new commandment is the commandment of love. We ask the question: “But how can it be NEW?” Were people not required to love before the time of Jesus? Certainly! The Jews had two commandments of love enunciated in Deuteronomy 6:5 (LOVE OF GOD) and Leviticus 19:18 (LOVE OF NEIGHBOUR). Even Jesus described them as the first and the second greatest commandments of the law. (Mtt 22:37-39; Mk 12:29-31). So how was the commandment given by Jesus NEW?
- THE “NEWNESS” OF THE COMMANDMENT OF JESUS
- a) It is a command: It is not an invitation. It is not a request. It is not something optional. It is not an elective in the classroom of faith. It is a requirement. It is an order. Being a command, it calls for total obedience on the part of his disciples. In other words, it is an obligation to love one another. Therefore, to love is a decision to follow the Lord’s command. Love does not just happen.
- b) The command is new in its range and application: Whereas the neighbour that a Jew was required to love was another Jew, for a disciple of Christ, the neighbour was us every man and woman, friend and foe alike. A Jew had no business in loving a Roman or a Samaritan. Not only was he not required to love his enemy, he was even entitled to exact an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Not so for the Christian. For a Christian, even a Samaritan is neighbour to a Jew, as we learn in the parable of the “Good Samaritan” (Lk 10:29-37). In our own context today, we might say that even a Muslim is neighbour to a Christian. St. Paul tells us: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
- c) Just as i have loved you: The Jewish commandment of love was “you must love your neigbour AS YOURSELF” (Lev 19:18). Jesus’ new commandment is rather “Love one another AS I HAVE LOVED YOU” (Jn 15:12). When you hear what comes next, you will know that it goes far beyond loving your neighbour as yourself. In the next verse Jesus says, “No one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13). And Jesus went ahead to show it by actually dying on the cross for us, his friends. That is how he has loved us.
- THE TRUE MEANING OF LOVE
One of the most misused words in the English language today is the word ‘love’. In most songs which we hear today, “love” means “sex”, “sexual intercourse”, “erotic feelings”, etc. But that is not all that love means in the basic passages on love in the New Testament.
- In the original language of the Greek New Testament, there are four different words for “love.” One is erotic love which means sexual love or the sexual drive of the body. This attraction also exists in animals. It is the lowest kind of love; it is completely selfish.
- The second kind of love is the love of friendship. In this kind of “love” we like people because we feel good with them. They are good friends and make a pleasant company. This love gives us something, so it is a bit selfish.
- The third kind of love exists between parents and children. It comes closer to real love because it is usually unselfish. And we call this as philial
- The fourth kind of love is selfless love which we called as “agape” in Greek. This is the ideal love which Jesus talks about in today’s gospel. This is the highest type of love; the love of God has for us. This is the love that is described so well by St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians (chapter 13). “Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous of boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things. Love never ends.”
- HOW DID JESUS LOVE HIS DISCIPLES?
The biblical scholar, William Barclay lists the following, as ways in which Jesus showed his perfect love for his disciples and for us all.
- a) He loved his disciples selflessly. He loved his disciples selflessly. Even in the noblest human love there remains some element of self. We so often think-maybe unconsciously-of what we are to get. So often at the back of things it is our happiness that we are seeking. But Jesus never thought of himself. His one desire was to give himself and all he had for those he loved.
- b) Jesus loved his disciples sacrificially. There was no limit to what his love would give or to where it would go. If love meant the Cross, Jesus was prepared to go there. Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that love is meant to give us happiness. Actually in the end it does, but love has to pass through pain and sacrifices first, in order to draw the genuine act of love that produces happiness in life.
- c) Jesus loved his disciples understandingly. He knew his disciples through and through. We never really know people until we have lived with them. When we are meeting them only occasionally, we see them at their best. It is when we live with them that we find out their moods and their irritabilities and their weaknesses. Jesus had lived with his disciples, day in and day out for many months and knew all that was to be known about them—AND HE STILL LOVED THEM. The heart of Jesus is big enough to love us as we are.
- d) Jesus loved his disciples forgivingly. His apostles forsaked him in his hour of need. They were blind and insensitive, slow to learn and lacking in understanding. In the end they were craven cowards. But Jesus held nothing against hem; there was no failure which he could not forgive. For Jesus the very reason for all enduring love must be build on forgiveness, for without forgiveness it is bound to fail.
- SOME PRACTICAL IMPLICATION OF THE “NEW COMMANDMENT”.
Note the standard of Jesus’ love: “as I have loved you”. Jesus is not advocating some cheap, pious sentimentality. He is calling for a love of substance.
- a) This Christ-like love is a love that is agapaic; a love ‘in spite of’ and not ‘love if’ or ‘love because.’ Agape is unconditional love, a love that is not motivated by the lovableness of the other. It does not say: “I will love you if you will become stop lying, stealing, or cheating” or “I will love you if you can afford to buy me a beautiful car.” It is love for even the unlovable, including the poor and one’s enemies. His love is self-sacrificing, unselfish and unselective. The love of Jesus also is not merited love, which is only bestowed upon those who possess adorable qualities. His love never says: “I love you because you are considerate” or “I love you because you are faithful.” We are called by Jesus to do the same thing, that is, to love each one not because he/she is lovable but in spite of the fact that he/she may not be lovable. We are to love even our enemies and sinners too.
- b) Jesus loved through humble service. Previously in this Chapter 13 of John’s gospel, Jesus had washed the disciples’ feet. He said, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” (Jn 13:14). This might not seem like a big deal but Jesus is telling us to do something that goes against the way we normally live. He is telling us to be more concerned about what we can give and do for one another than what we can get. Jesus tells us that love is not about how we can benefit from another. It is about how we can benefit them. We serve each other out of our love for Christ not out of love for ourselves!
- c) Jesus’ love was active and tangible. The Apostle James 2:14 says, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well: keep warm and well fed, but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?”The love of the Christian is to go beyond words . . . it must reveal itself in actions.
- c) This love implies that we must be prepared to lay down out life for our neighbour. There have been cases recorded in history when someone actually did that physically, someone actually died in place of another. What is more likely to happen, though, in our case is that we shall be required to lay down our life for our neighbour morally, symbolically. What that means is the we shall be required to make sacrifices, to deny ourselves certain things that we want, but someone else needs more than we do. The thing that we may be called to sacrifice or deny ourselves may be material, like our time, comfort, or simply a listening ear.
- BY THIS EVERYONE WILL KNOW THAT YOU ARE MY DISCIPLES
Generally, we easily distinguish people belonging to particular groups by their uniforms, badges, banners, pinups etc. We recognize those in the military, the CWA, CMA, etc. because of their uniforms. Those who wear lab coats in a hospital we recognize as medical personnel. In our neighborhood you can recognize the children who go to Catholic or other schools because of their uniforms. Without this external uniform, members of some groups can never be recognized. In order to give a distinguishing mark for his followers, Jesus goes beyond external habits and dress code. “Everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Love is the Christian identity. Love is the Christian uniform. Love is the Christian habit. If you are wearing the habit of love, you are in. If you are not wearing love as a habit, you are out. The great Mahatma Gandhi was asked why he has not converted to Christianity. He responded: “I have read the Christian Bible, and I have concluded that there is no one who has done more for humanity than Jesus, with his teaching on love. But what I have discovered with you Christians is that you do not only hate your enemies; you hate your fellow-believers – Christians. I don’t want to become a Christian for fear of being hated by Christians”. In this light, the Apostle Paul contends that Christians should be recognized by their character: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, put on then compassion (compassionate hearts), kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Col 3:12). These are the external indicators of a loving person.
- COMPASSION: It involves feeling another’s pain and extending mercy to the one who has fallen.
- KINDNESS: It is treating another person with respect and honor. It is attributing value and dignity to another.
- HUMILITY: It is recognizing that anything we accomplish has been through God’s work in us. We have nothing to be proud of. All we have and are, are God’s gifts.
- GENTLENESS: It is the character trait that leads us to relate to others with tenderness and softness.
- PATIENCE: Patience seems to remind us that we cannot expect people to be perfect, all-knowing or even nice all the time. It helps us to become more tolerant with them when we realize that they are very much like us.
When we choose to deal with others with the compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, people meet Jesus in us. They recognize us a “Christians”, those who model themselves in Christ’s love.