“I give you a new commandment that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”[i] Instead of telling us to be kind, respectful, compassionate or patient (which we are to be), Jesus tells us to love. In the New Testament Greek there are four words for love. One is about family, love between children and parents, between siblings. Another is the erotic, sexual, falling in love. Another is the love of close friends. Then there’s agape, different from the rest. It’s not based on a relationship or affinity.
One may have agape for family, friends and lovers, but it is more a choice. This is a determination of the will that no matter who this person is, no matter what kind of relationship we have with them, no matter how they treat us, no matter if they injure or grieve us, we will seek their best. It is doing the same good for them as those for whom we have a special feeling. It is love to those whom we may or may not like.
This is tough love, not a feeling of the heart but a resolve of the will. It’s the love God has for all of us, love no matter what. It’s the love Jesus had for his disciples and what Jesus speaks of in our Gospel text today: I give you a new commandment that you love one anther no matter what. Just as I have loved you no matter what, you also should love one another no matter what.
Love is not an entirely new command. God told Abraham: I will bless you, so that you will be a blessing. Through you all the nations of the earth will be blessed.[ii] What is new for the disciples is how they have been experiencing this love no matter what directly from Jesus.
Remember their experience. Imagine being at the Last Supper and hearing: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” What might have come to mind for the disciples? What memories might have flashed when Jesus said: as I have loved you no matter what?
I was a common fisherman. He reached out to me. Jesus invited me into relationship with him and on this journey. Jesus loves me.
Like the man beside the pool, Jesus said, “Do you want to be healed?” I gave all kinds of excuses why I can’t get better. He saw through and extended a hand. Jesus loves me.
I’m like one of those wandering lost sheep. Jesus sought me out. Even leaving the others, he went after me in rough places and brought me back to safety. Jesus loves me.
We tried to convince him to send the people away so they could go buy food. But he said: “You give them something to eat.” He used the little we had and made it overflow. He keeps asking me to give when I think I don’t have anything. He multiplies even my smallest offer. Jesus includes and values. Jesus loves me.
He called out “who touched me?” amid a crowd jostling up against him. Like with that woman, he notices when I reach out to him amid all the others. Jesus pays attention and listens. Jesus loves me.
We’re a ragtag and rowdy bunch. We complain and argue. We doubt and run off. We keep getting it wrong. Jesus puts up with us in the most gracious way. Jesus loves us.
He acted like a slave just now. He washed our feet! He always accepts and honors the very things we want to hide. Jesus kneels down with gentle compassion. Jesus loves us.
Now listen to Jesus speaking to you and to me: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” What comes to mind when you hear this? What memories flash when Jesus says: as I have loved you no matter what?
Perhaps you remember how it all began, how Jesus invited you into relationship. Remember people who have been Jesus in the flesh for you.
Those who looked past your excuses and extended a helping hand.
Those who sought you out in rough places and brought you safely home.
Those who included and valued you, making you part of a larger whole.
Those who paid attention to you among all the others. Those who listened to you.
Those who stuck with you through complaints, arguments, doubts and mistakes.
Those who knelt to serve you, with gentle compassion for your brokenness.
Remember how Jesus has loved you no matter what.
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” Jesus doesn’t suggest or invite. He commands. Love one another. Love though you don’t like. Love though it’s really hard work. Following Jesus is not easy.
Yet Jesus always acts first. We give out of presence not absence. Having been blessed abundantly, we bless everyone. Having been loved abundantly, we love everyone.
The way is we love others no matter what.
The truth is Jesus loves us no matter what.
The life is being restored, through love, as Jesus loves, no matter what.
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