Most of us have had the experience of sharing a last meal or saying a last goodbye before a heart sickening parting. Tearful farewells at the airport as loved ones leave home to move overseas or interstate, parting from a dying family member or friend in hospital for the last time, a final farewell from a workplace or school, a eulogy. During these last moments we speak of the things in our heart – words of love and thanks, grief and loss, words of comfort and concern; our wisdom shared and our hopes for the future.
Jesus speaks to his disciples (and to us) in such a way in this passage in John’s Gospel. After a last supper with the disciples, he waits until Judas has left the company and shares his final address; preparing the disciples for what is to come, and emphasising his most important teachings and instructions.
In these final moments Jesus does not complain about his betrayal by Judas. He does not condemn or seek retribution. Instead he speaks of the Glory of God, and the glorification of God that will occur through his death, resurrection and ascension. He speaks in plain terms about the separation between him and his followers that is forthcoming with his death, making it known to the disciples that their path forward must begin again without him being physically present.
And then Jesus confirms and summarises his entire ministry providing not only the disciples, but all followers, with the clearest of directives – we are to love one another, as he has loved us. Such an unequivocal, unmistakable instruction in the way we are to live our lives. It is through this self-giving, self-sacrificing love that the disciplines are asked to build a new community. To support each other in the times ahead – good and bad, fruitful and challenging. So radically different that others would take notice, and recognise Jesus’s followers as being such.
What a challenge! It’s so much easier to love someone we like or agree with. Someone who similar to us, someone who shares our values and aspirations, someone who hasn’t annoyed us today, someone whom we don’t hold a grudge against. Loving others the way Jesus loves – and asks us to love – requires an act of will, not just of feeling. It’s a decision – every day – and a responsibility.
And just like in the days of the disciples – we today are known to others by our acts of love, care and service – or by their absence. How will others recognise Jesus’s commandment lived out in my life today?
John 13:31-35 The New Commandment 31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 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.’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”