Today’s Gospel forms part of Jesus’ farewell discourse – his last words to his disciples before he went out to the Mount of Olives. Among these last words is that so simple, and yet so difficult commandment; love one another. Jesus describes this as a ‘new commandment’, and it really does lie at the heart of what it means to say we are Christian, or that we follow the way of Christ. Love one another.
Love is a complicated thing; we so often don’t know what we mean when we talk about love, and we often say it far too easily. We confuse it with physical desire for another, desire that comes and goes and easily fades when we find out the true humanity of the idealised other. That is not the love Jesus is talking about here as he shared food with his disciples in the Upper Room, love that is extended even to the un-loveable, and those who would betray or abandon us.
The scene could not have been more inauspicious: a low-lit room, full stomachs, and the dirty feet of a dozen grown men. Judas is in the process of betraying Jesus, and Peter, who is so vocal, will soon deny him. The rest will scatter and leave him to his own devices. This is not where you’d expect to find one of the world’s greatest lessons in loving one another. But it was here, nonetheless, in the upper room of a common house in first-century Palestine, the night before Jesus died, that we see this Jesus love in action, and learn what this new commandment is about. Love is not about fine words, or about desire for an idealised other, but about service. Love and service are intertwined and cannot be separated.
Jesus shows us that when we love and serve each other in this way, people will know that we’re his. Love and service are the witness in the world that we are the redeemed people of God. We talk a lot about what it means to be a missional church, and surely this is the love in action that lies at its heart. A church that is “missional,” and wants to make Jesus known in its community, must be a church where people love and serve one another. That’s the way it works.
In peace, Mother Lynda
Gospel Reading: John 13:31-35