Christ's command to love others as He loves us actually contains an implicit promise about what He is committed to doing for us
It’s the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C, and Jesus gives a new commandment — that we should love one another as he has loved us.
But it is more than that. It is a declaration that we are capable of extraordinary love, with extraordinary consequences in our lives.
Note how the Gospel begins: With Judas leaving and glory entering.
After Judas leaves, Jesus says, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.”
He means that his Passion has begun and that this will be his glory. But where is the glory in being handed over by one of his best friends, abandoned by others, and exposed to a shameful death?
There is enormous glory in it — the greatest glory possible: The glory of a powerful figure being true to unconditional love no matter what happens.
This is the context in which Jesus gives a last request.
Next, Jesus says he will “only be with you a little while longer,” making his next words urgent. “I give you a new commandment: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you should love one another,” he says.
Think of what he is asking. He:
- Created us.
- Humbled himself to live like us.
- Tirelessly preached repentance.
- Healed countless people.
- Died for us.
- Forgave us.
Jesus often asks the impossible. He tells us to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” and “be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Now he commands us to love like he does.
How can we love like Jesus? There is only one way it is possible.
It is impossible to do this by “imitation,” says the Catechism. But it is possible to do it by “participation.”
Some of the greatest things we do in life are by “participation” rather than on our own. This is in fact the theme of the hit 2016 business book The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups. The book describes how groups of people are able to work together to accomplish great tasks by developing teamwork to a point where they almost think and act as one.
The difference is that, instead of uniting with a Seal team targeting Osama Bin Laden or with the crew of United 232 after it lost an engine outside of Sioux City (two stories from the book), we have to learn to unite with Jesus Christ.
This total union is the whole point of Christianity.
Each step of our Christian life is meant to be a demonstration of how badly Jesus wants to be united with each of us. We are baptized “into Christ,” many of us as infants. We receive Communion — the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ — as children. We are confirmed and receive “the fullness of the Holy Spirit.” We are married and become “one in Christ,” or we become the spouse of Christ in a religious vocation.
Jesus wants us to be more than just passing acquaintances. As St. Athanasius put it, “we become communicants in the divine nature …. Those in whom the Spirit dwells are divinized.”
By participating in the life of Jesus — through liturgy, the sacraments, sincere prayer and reform of life — we are able to love as he does, because we love with him.
If being part of a great team can transform our lives, being one with God can do even more.
Look at what Paul and Barnabas do in the first reading. They make “a considerable number of disciples” around the Mediterranean. Their love is glorified like Christ’s as they proclaim, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”
If their example seems unique, we can each see the same story closer to home. In Atchison, Kansas, where I live, there are four beautiful Catholic churches. Each building is a testament to a community of people who came together to create a humbling testament to God’s greatness, to make it possible to preach repentance and heal countless people — just like Christ.
That takes a lot of love — united with Jesus Christ’s love.
There is no other way to be Christian.
There is one additional impossibility Jesus Christ asks of us — one we pray for every day: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we say.
If you ever wondered what that would look like, today’s Second Reading describes it. It is heaven, “a new heaven and a new earth” and God says of it, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race … he will wipe every tear from their eyes.”
That is how love will transform us in the future. But it starts transforming us now.
“This is how all will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another,” Jesus says.
Total love. Unconditional love. Christ’s love.