Do you know how you can read something over and over again, thinking you know it by heart, only to discover a new meaning–one that is so obvious yet provocative at the same time?
It happened to me this week as I was planning my preaching schedule for the next two months. I read John 13:34 where Jesus tells his disciples “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” So what’s new about this? It makes sense. Followers of Jesus are taught from the beginning about love. “God is love.” “For God so loved the world.” “There is no greater love than this when a man lays down his life for a friend.” I could go on and on, but I won’t. What is new here for me is that I just noticed, or it really just sank in, that Jesus calls this a new commandment–to love one another.
I know, I know, we have been taught to love each other our whole lives. I find it amazing that in the Jewish tradition, though, it had not been a commandment to love one another. There was the Shema in Deut. 6:5 telling the Israelites, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart…,” then there is the giving of the ten commandments but even there you will not find a commandment to love.
Maybe the answer here is that you cannot command another person to love others, but Jesus thought it was necessary. He told people the greatest commandment was the Shema, but adds “and this one is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” Now Jesus wasn’t talking about an ooey, gooey love. He was talking about a love that has no strings attached–agape love–which means unconditional love. It is the same love God has for us. He gave this new commandment to his disciples after he served them by washing their feet. This kind of love serves one another and respects one another regardless of who they are, where they are from, what they have done, etc.
This kind of love transforms people. Jesus knew that and by proposing it as a new commandment for those who follow him he made it absolutely an essential part of Christian discipleship. This command to love follows us wherever we go–home, school, workplace, community, church. What would happen if we served each other at home, in the classroom, at work, in our day-to-day dealings with people at the store, in the art gallery, or at the movies? That’s what Jesus was interested in–not business as usual, but unusual business where we put others first.
Now that’s new! How can you serve those you live with, work with, work for or hang out with this week?
Grace and peace!
Rex A. Dickey