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5th Sunday in Easter, Year C

The New Commandment 

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...And in this case, in Greek (especially in this context), agape (or agapao here), Jesus is definitely intending it not as romantic love here, but we might call “sacrificial love”, the kind of love that wills the good of another person, even unto suffering and death itself. And you can see that that’s what Jesus means by agape (“love”, in the Gospel of John) by looking at John 15. Just a few verses later in the Last Supper discourse, Jesus says (in John 15:13):

Greater love (agape) has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

So for Jesus, sacrificial agape is the supreme expression of love. It’s the highest form of love to lay down your life for another person. It’s certainly the highest form of love of neighbor. And so, that’s the essence, that’s the heart of the New Commandment that Jesus is giving to his apostles. “I want you to love one another as I have loved you.” In other words, “I want you to love one another sacrificially.” To be able, not just able, but willing to lay down your lives for one another. And this, he ends by saying, “this is how people will know that you are my disciples. That you agapao one another.” That you have that kind of love for one another, a sacrificial love for one another. And I think it’s important to remember here that when Jesus says “disciples”, the Greek word for disciple, mathetes, is from the word manthano, the verb means “to learn”. So literally, “my learners”. How will people know that you are my learners? How will people know that you are my students? When they see you imitate the teacher, when they see you imitate the master and love one another as I have loved you (sacrificially), that’s how they’ll know that you’re my disciples.

The little song we learned (at least I learned, when I was a kid), “they will know we are Christians by our love”. That’s a good song. It’s a true statement, but Jesus doesn’t say Christians here. Notice what he says, my disciples. First of all, the term “Christian” hadn’t been coined yet, but more importantly, Jesus isn’t just calling the disciples to be believers in him (that’s really important), he’s calling him to be his students. So they are supposed to study what the master says, to listen to what the master teaches, and to do what the master does. They are called to imitate him and to live like he lived. I think this is important for us (once again) in a contemporary context because sometimes we will talk about discipleship and reduce it to being a believer. I mean think how often it is today people will say, “Are you a believer? Do you believe in Jesus?” What they mean is, “Have you made an intellectual act of accepting who Jesus is and what he’s done for you. Do you believe that those things are true?” And that’s really important, the consent of the intellect is important.

But, being a disciple is much more than just believing. Because you can believe and not do anything he said. You can believe that he’s Divine, you can believe that he’s the son of God, and disobey him or abandon him or betray him, and all those things. So a true disciple (what Jesus is saying)… “the way people will know if you’re really my students is if you love like the master loved, if you love like the teacher loved, if you imitate the teacher.” And this is how the teacher/student relationship was in 1st Century Judaism. When you took up with a rabbi or when you studied under a rabbi, it was never just assumed that you would learn his ideas and make his ideas your ideas, but that you would walk with him in the way that he walked. You would follow the path that he led. And that’s a lot harder than just assenting to intellectual propositions, to intellectual abstract ideas. Those are important, some teachers may or may not teach the truth, but there’s more than just the truth involved here. It’s an act not just of the intellect (that’s how we know), but Jesus is saying here “I want you to make an act of the will, that you love.” So we know with the intellect but we choose with the will. So we know with the mind but we love with the heart (with the will), the deepest part of the person, where a person chooses for or against God.

Another reason it’s significant is because if you think about the angelic intellect. So in scriptures, you see the unholy angels (like Satan). Well they know the truth, their intellects grasp the truth, but their will’s reject it. So you can know all the truth in the world and still be damned if you don’t love, if you don’t make an act of the will to choose the good for another. So Jesus here is giving a commandment and it isn’t just like an addendum, it’s essential. If we don’t love one another as he loved us, we’re not really his disciples. That’s the flip-side of this new commandment. The expression of love within the church becomes a fundamental (kind of) litmus test for the authenticity of the discipleship, not just believing in Jesus, but loving like Jesus loved and living like Jesus lived...

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