A New Commandment

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April 24, 2016 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause

April 24, 2016
John 13:31-33a, 34-35
Fr. George Smiga

In the gospel we have just heard, Jesus gives us a new commandment to love one another. But how is this commandment new? Earlier in his ministry a lawyer came up to Jesus and asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” Jesus responded, “It is to love God with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself.” This is a great love commandment. In what way, then, does today’s new love commandment move beyond the earlier love commandment? It differs because Jesus uses himself as the model of love. He says, “Love one another as I have loved you.” If Jesus is the model for loving, then the stakes of loving are raised much higher, because Jesus loved selflessly, and completely and universally.  

What Jesus is asking us to do in his new commandment is to love in a way that goes beyond normal human loving. Most of us try to love the people in our lives who deserve our love. But Jesus loved people who did not deserve his love. He loved Peter who denied him. He loved the criminal who hung on the cross next to him. He loved the woman who was caught in adultery. Most of us in our lives try to forgive people if they are sorry and if they ask for our forgiveness, but Jesus forgave those who crucified him even as they drove the nails through his hands and his feet. I think all of us try to love the people who belong to us: our children, our family and our friends. But Jesus loved the tax collector, the leper, and the prostitute.

It is not easy to follow Jesus’ new commandment of love because to love as Jesus loved is to adopt a love that is deep, radical and extreme. I think our first response to Jesus’ new command is frustration. How can anyone love this way? It is impractical. It is impossible. But the truth about Jesus’ new commandment is this: It is not only a demand. It is a gift. To love as Jesus loved is to do something that we cannot do on our own, by our own will power. Whenever we are able to love as Jesus loved, we know that it is through God’s grace. When we are able to forgive an enemy, to reach out and touch a leper, to show graciousness to those who do not deserve it, we know that God is working in us and through us. That makes us both humble and blessed.  

To love as Jesus loved is not easy, but it is a love that lasts. I believe that when we come to the end of our life and look back over the things we have done and the people we have become, it will be the times we have love as Jesus loved that we will remember.

I believe that all people of good will should be able to say on their death bed, “I Ioved my children, I was faithful to my friends, I was fair to people who were fair to me.” To say those things is to admit that you have lived your life as a good moral person. But my hope is that many of us here will be able to say more than that when our lives comes to an end. When we look back on the things we have done, my hope is that we will be able to remember when we forgave someone who hurt us deeply, when we made a difference in the life of someone we barely knew, when we showed mercy to those who have no right to expect it. To remember such actions is to recognize that we loved as Jesus loved and God worked through us. Such actions should give us peace and joy, because they would indicate that we lived our lives not simply just as good moral people but as disciples of Jesus.

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