I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.—John 13:34-35
Recently I made a trip from Milwaukee to Los Angeles to take part in a conference as part of my work for Abbey Press and Deacon Digest magazine. Having lived in L.A. for more than two years, the trip provided me with a wonderful opportunity to spend some time with friends I hadn’t seen since in several months.
Of course, as our time came to an end, there was the inevitable leave-taking. There were hugs and promises to call and e-mail soon. And, of course, we said “I love you” to one another.
Leave-taking is a difficult but very real part of human life. And it’s difficult precisely because of the love and investment we feel for those whose lives and stories have become interwoven with our own. In many ways, this reality is what’s at the heart of this Sunday’s Gospel. Although we are celebrating the Fifth Sunday of Easter, this passage from the 13th chapter of John’s Gospel is actually part of Jesus’ explanation to the disciples of why he washed their feet (cf. John 13:1-20). Here, in a sense, we find Jesus saying his “good-byes” before taking leave of his friends. And, in our Gospel this Sunday we hear his “I love you” to those who had played — and would continue to play — an essential role in his saving work.
And yet we have to remember that Jesus’ love for his friends and followers isn’t a greeting card sentiment because his love is inseparable from who he is and from his mission. This is why the act of washing of the disciples’ feet is really a perfect symbol of his self-giving love. As Sister Barbara Reid, OP, has observed, “He has modeled for them actions that bespeak love—a love that will even go so far as to surrender life itself for the other. … Jesus not only gives the disciples the gift of his love but he also commands them to do as he has done. He has shown what love is by acting it out — pouring himself out in service.”
For Jesus, love is about visible, dynamic acts that lift up others and offer healing and wholeness. So, when we hear Jesus saying to the disciples (and to us!) that we are to love one another, he is telling us to love others with his love — a love that embodies mercy and which gives life. This love is the basis for what Henri Nouwen has called the “three spiritual qualities of the resurrected life”: unity, intimacy and integrity. “We are called,” he reminds us, “to break through the boundaries of nationality, race, sexual orientation, age and mental capacities and create a unity of love that allows the weakest among us to live well” (from The Road to Daybreak).
As a way of helping us understand the power of this Jesus-love more fully, our liturgy this Sunday gives us a vision of a “new heaven and a new earth,” symbolizing what is possible for us here and now if we are willing to live out Jesus’ mandate to love others — to love all — with his love: every tear will be wiped away, “and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away” (cf. the Second Reading: Revelation 21:1-5).
The invitation for us is clear: we are to love others as Jesus has loved us, in dynamic and life-giving ways. As simple as this might seem, however, we should also recognize that what Jesus is calling us to is a new way of life and a new way of loving that is worthy of the “new Jerusalem.” The wonderful gift in this is that when we love others, there is no leave-taking, because, in the end, love cannot ignore, divide or exclude.
How have you experienced the transforming love of Jesus in your own life? When has this love come to you through the words and actions of others?
How does today’s Gospel challenge you to open your heart to the needs of others?
As we continue this Year of Mercy, what concrete acts of mercy and compassion can you offer to others as a way helping make the vision of the book of Revelation more a reality?
Words of Wisdom: “Christ commands us to love as he did, putting neither reputation, nor wealth, nor anything whatever before love of our brothers and sisters. … The Savior urged us to practice this love that transcends the law as the foundation of true devotion to God.”—St. Cyril of Alexandria