Some time ago while giving a reflection on the Gospel of John where Jesus said “if you love me you will keep my commandment” (John 14:15), I asked the congregation why the theme of love is constantly repeated in most of the readings every liturgical year. As one would expect, there were numerous answers and references, but two of them stood out for me; “we cannot help but talk about love” and “God is love” (1 John 4:8). If we put the two answers together in a sentence, we could say, “we cannot help but talk about love because God is love.”
The Gospel narrative (John 13:31-33a,34-35) recalls the Last Supper of our Lord with the apostles. It is important to note that our Lord Jesus Christ begins the instruction on love as a new commandment when Judas left the dinner table to conclude his plans to betray him; hatred gives way for love to express itself. The words of our Lord run thus;
“I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.”
When our Lord talks about a new commandment, any active mind would like to know what that the old commandment entails and why the new is important. The old commandment of love states, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” (Lev. 19:18).
Our Lord’s prescription does not diminish the importance and value of the old commandment but takes it further and gives it a new dimension. In the old commandment, one uses oneself as a measure for love, “love your neighbor as yourself.” Here, there is a presumption that one loves oneself to the extent that he or she is ready to give the same quality of love to another person.
It is understandable that when God gave this instruction, there was no sustainable example of love that would serve as a measure of love. However, at this point when our Lord was about to demonstrate what true love entails “laying down one life for others” (John 15:13) he uses himself as a perfect measure for love; so, he says, “love one another as I loved.”
Our Lord was telling them to stand in for one another as he stood for them, to go the extra mile for one another as he did, making a sacrifice for one another as he would do with his own life. The perfect way to love is not by using the standard of what we do to ourselves because most people lack love for themselves not to mention loving others. Love should, therefore, follow the fashion and style of our Lord Jesus Christ not by our approach and inclinations.
Moving Forward: Living by the Love Identity
The final statement of the Gospel today leaves us with so much to digest. “This is how all will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.”
Reading the Acts of the Apostle (11:19-30), we understand that persecution broke out against the disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ, and they were scattered throughout the whole region spreading the good news everywhere. Now, after observing their rare character and selfless love, which includes sharing, the Antiochians gave them a nickname; Christians, that means those who are living their lives after the pattern of Christ. And the pattern of the life of Christ entails selfless giving even to the point of death.
Love should be the perfect identity of every Christian. With the provisions of the new commandment, love is not how you feel; it is what you do for another without conditions and limitations in the way and manner of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is very unfortunate that many people understand love from the angle of what they could potentially gain from what they love.
True Christian love does not ask “what is in there for me” but asks “what more can I do for you.” The Gospel Reading today is a veritable challenge for all of us Christians to live according to the provisions of our identity, namely, “Christlikeness.” Christlikeness involves forgiveness, charity, selfless service, helping and not hindering others, honesty, truthfulness, peace, and harmony.
As we march into a new week, let us continually pay attention to the challenge of reflecting the Christian identity in all aspects of our lives. Have a blissful Sunday and a glorious week ahead.