“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.” Mmkay Jesus, but that actually isn’t new at all. The commandment to love one another was around since Old Testament times, and actually described in relatively great detail in those very famous 10 Commandments that we keep hearing and learning and talking so much about. So what was Jesus talking about here? Why was he calling it “new”?
The thing with this passage is that it is pulled very much out of context. We hear this bit of the story and we think, “well isn’t that nice” and leave it at that. But if we were to take a step back and look at the bigger picture, we can see that this all is a bit more difficult than we first think.
I’m going to wager that no one has a bible in front of them right now to check the whole context of this passage, so let’s just see how it starts as we just heard it read. It begins with, “when he had gone out”. Who is “he”? Any guesses?
See if we had bibles in front of us this would be easy. We would be able to see that this is part of the story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, and after he displayed that act of humility, service, and love, and told them that someone was going to betray him. With this, everyone was taken aback. “Someone is going to wha-a-a?” It was unbelievable to them. All this time Jesus has given them so much, taught them so much, showed them so much about life, community, and love. And someone in this room is about to betray him? What is that all about?
Jesus even tells them that he’ll give his bread to the one who is going to betray him and then he gives bread to, you guessed it, Judas. And they still didn’t get it, they weren’t the sharpest bunch, and Jesus told Judas to go do what he has to do.
Then Jesus goes and tells them to do this new thing and love each other. Maybe the commandment itself isn’t new, but it’s like the practice is. I mean, c’mon Judas. What gives man? You give up your teacher, your mentor, your Rabbi for a few pieces of silver? John tells us that Judas ran off into the darkness, and I supposed we can take that figuratively as we could literally. Judas really did it now.
But he wasn’t the only one. After Jesus tells the disciples to love each other in the passage we get today, Peter goes and says that he’ll do anything for Jesus. Anything. He’ll go wherever he goes and will even lay his life down for him. But Jesus makes another prediction. He tells Peter that before the rooster crows, Peter would already have denied Jesus not once, not twice, but thrice. Let’s not forget the timeline here. This is the night that Jesus was betrayed. This is the night that Jesus is arrested. This is the night that all disciples abandon him to save themselves. This is the night that Peter watches from afar, and when he is confronted by strangers, denies that he even knows Jesus. Pretty much in the same breath that Peter is confessing his undying loyalty, he is denying and essentially betraying Jesus.
So let’s recap: Jesus is just chillin’ with his “cipes” (as in disciples) and goes and washes them right on the feet, which quite honestly is just as uncomfortable and awkward as you think it would be, and sandwiched between the predictions of him being betrayed and denied, he tells them to love. Love. Love, dagnabbit. But again, he calls this new. Why? Because they didn’t know how to love before? Because they just brushed off this commandment as more of a guideline? Because they mistakenly thought loving looked like betraying and denying?
I mean, it sounds like if anyone needs to hear this, this new commandment to love, it’d be this bunch of screw ups, that’s for sure. Like seriously. How can anyone still go through with all they did, kicking at the heels of Jesus washing their feet and telling them specifically to be loving? How can they even think of betraying and denying him when all they’ve received from him is love? How can they just forget all that Jesus had done for them, and turn around to be so selfish, so misled, so unloving? It boggles the mind.
Until… well… we realise that we do that all the time too. Sure, maybe we didn’t betray Jesus for some silver or deny knowing a condemned man charged with treason, but we do act in ways unbecoming of a child of God. We sometimes say things that might be inappropriate and uncalled for. We sometimes make decisions out of a place of pure selfishness, or jealousy, or faithlessness and fear. We sometimes do betray Jesus and deny him in our own ways and our own faults. Some might even say that we have, on occasion, acted in ways that would be considered unloving.
See, as much as the disciples need to hear this, so do we. So do we need to be reminded to love, as so often in our lives we act in a way that is the complete opposite of love. So do we need to look to the example of Christ, showing us what love truly is, and being encouraged to integrate that into our own lives and ways in our communities and neighbourhoods.
And this leads us back to how this commandment is “new”. It isn’t because they just never listened to it or understood it, but it’s because they never had the example of Jesus to follow. “Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another.” That is the new part. Follow Jesus’ example. He showed us what it means to love, look at that. Learn from that. Copy that.
I know it sounds a bit like the whole What Would Jesus Do movement. But the way that was described to me back in the day was when you were thinking about doing something bad, think in your head WWJD and see that you know, Jesus wouldn’t steal that bag of chips or lie to his friend or run that red light. So smarten up and be like Jesus. And I never liked this movement because it seemed to never get to the heart of the matter. I think Jesus’ example to love isn’t a passive “just don’t do bad” kind of thing, but more of an active, “go do something good” kind of thing.
Yeah, Jesus didn’t betray them or deny his disciples like they did to him, but I think Jesus’ example is actually in how he showed love in light of the bad things that his friends did to him.
Yes, it’s probably not a good idea to betray each other or deny each other. We probably should be mindful of all the things and morals we’ve learned from the past. Like, don’t lie to each other or steal from each other. Don’t emotionally hurt each other or be jealous of each other. Don’t take advantage of each other and certainly don’t kill each other. But unfortunately these things can, may, and probably will happen. As living beings living with other living beings, the very real possibility of being wronged is a very real possibility. We will disagree with each other. We will fight with each other. We might even hurt each other to varying different degrees. In the midst of all that, Jesus says, yeah try your best to not do those things, but when they happen to you? Forgive. Reconcile. Love.
Now that’s really easier said than done, isn’t it? I know if someone sold me out for some silver, it’d be too soon if I never saw them again. But this is what makes this commandment new. There is an example now for us to follow. There is a mandate for us to promote community. There is a call to not just be passively nice to each other, but to actively regard each other as we are regarded by God, as God’s fallen but forgiven, broken but brought up, betraying and denying but beloved children, eternally invited and welcomed into God’s kingdom, joined together as the one body of Christ.
I would go so far as to say that to love is to be able to forgive. That doesn’t make it ok to betray, to deny, to lie, cheat, and steal, but it does say that we no longer need to define each other by our sin, but rather we can see each other as God sees us, and that is with grace, with mercy, and with a love that flung the stars into space and filled this planet with every living thing.
Yes, I know it’s easier said than done. It’s easier to be angry at someone than to reconcile. It’s easier to hold a grudge than to forgive. It’s easier to hate than to love. But by the example of Christ, the strength of God, and the power of the Holy Spirit, we can all move toward right relationship and community where love and forgiveness can flow and fill our cups of blessing, as we live together ruled by the peace of Christ reigning in all our hearts.
This Easter, may we follow the example of love in our lives, that we can be strengthened to forgive, be slow to anger, and love as Christ first loved us. Thanks be to God. Amen.