Sounds like Jesus was getting ready to leave on a journey and He wanted to make sure that His disciples knew what He expected from them.
“I will be with you only a little while longer.” The disciples had no idea of what was going to happen. Good times, bad times—they laughed, they cried—but Jesus was always with them. Something was going to end and a new adventure was about to start. The disciples were receiving last minute instructions—a new commandment: love one another. No doubt that they had heard the commandment many times before. Love was nothing new. So why was Jesus calling the commandment new? What was new about love? The part with which they were unfamiliar was the extent that love was going to be shown. Jesus knew that He was going to embrace the ultimate sacrifice for them and for all of humanity. The disciples did not know that Jesus was going to get on His knees and wash their feet—a job that belonged to the servants. And they never would have guessed that Our Lord, aware that Judas was going to betray Him, still allowed him in their company and even permitted him to partake of Holy Communion. Indeed the love commandment was new when seen in the light of total acceptance—total forgivingness. No more, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”. The old ways were logical, easier to remember and seemed to be just. The new commandment left everyone bewildered. Jesus did not say, “I hope, I wish, try your best…” He said, “I command you.” The rules have changed. This is how people will know that you belong to me.
Uniforms, flags, bumper stickers—all help to identify us with a certain group. We take pride in being called the mustangs, the cougars, the bloodhounds. We decorate our cars with the insignias of the teams we want to win, especially during football season. As the elections heat up—folks get pretty excited as to which candidate gets the nomination. Republican, Democrat, or Independent—each person thinks that their party—their group is the most important. Jesus had a new idea. He said that His party—His group was going to be the least important. His followers were going to be the servants of everybody else.
We can imagine what happened the day that Jesus spoke these words. People started to leave. Folks had been shocked before, but this time He went too far. Nobody took offense at all the miracles, the acts of kindness, the touching of the untouchables—as long as Jesus was doing that stuff. However, when Jesus said that all His disciples would have to do the same—the announcement went over like a bomb. The disciples could no longer just watch. They could not remain at a distance, admire what Jesus did, and then go home. The disciples had to get their hands dirty in the act of loving those whom nobody wanted to love. A new Commandment—new to this day because we continue to be scandalized by love. No limits, no conditions. Love is our brand—makes us different—makes us true disciples.
For us love is not just a word but a way of life—a new commandment. Right in the middle of every relationship is Jesus Christ. We might not like every person, but we are commanded to love them.