The Commandment to Love

This coming Sunday is the 5th Sunday of Easter in Year C of the Lectionary Cycle. In yesterday’s post we explored a possible understanding of Jesus’ departure reference. Today we explore the last of the three parts of this very short reading: the Commandment to Love. 34 I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. 35 This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” 

This is the first of two instances (13:34; 15:12) in which Jesus commanded his disciples to love one another, but only on this occasion did he refer to it as a ‘new’ command. What is new about this commandment? It can refer to something that didn’t exist before. But the command to love one another is not recent. It is found in the Torah (Lev 19:18; Dt 6:4). It can refer to something that existed previously, but was not fully known or understood; e.g., a “new” understanding. I think that it is in this sense that this commandment is “new”.

Gail O’Day (“John”, New Interpreters Bible, 732-3) writes:

…what is new is that the commandment to love derives from the incarnation (see 3:16). The “new” turn in the commandment of 13:34 is that Jesus’ “own” are asked to enter into the love that marks the relationship of God and Jesus. Their participation in this relationship will be evidenced the same way that Jesus’ is: by acts of love that join the believer to God (cf. 14:15, 21, 23; 15:12). Keeping this commandment is the identifying mark of disciples (v. 35), because it is the tangible sign of the disciples’ abiding in Jesus (15:10).

In the OT the Israelites were commanded to love their neighbor as they loved themselves (Lev. 19:18), but Jesus said to his disciples, As I have loved you, so you must love one another. This raised the ante considerably. The measure of love for their neighbor was no longer their love for themselves, but Jesus’ love for them. The Fourth Gospel speaks of Jesus’ love for the disciples, a love that led him to lay down his life for them. Now he said they should love one another in the same way (cf. 1 John 3:16). Jesus’ love command was ‘new’ because it demanded a new kind of love, a love like his own.

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