Text: John 15:9-17
Date: Easter VI + 5/6/18
Once again in the brilliant light of the resurrection of our Lord, our minds are opened and enlightened to the deeper understanding of the scriptures. We’re still thinking about that night before our Lord’s death. Remember how, before that Passover meal, our Lord put a towel around His waist and, taking water, knelt before each of us to wash our feet? Peter didn’t think it was appropriate at all for our Lord to stoop to do such a menial, slavish task. When He was done, however, ‘remember what Jesus said? “You call me teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” Then He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another” (John 13:12-14; 34).
The new commandment. You have the Latin in front of you, “Mandatum Novum.” That’s where we get the anglicized word “Maundy” as we call that holy day, “Maundy Thursday.” The new commandment, that you love one another. But wait a minute. What makes that command so new? Isn’t it as old as was given us through Moses? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Dt 6:5; Lev 19:18). Well, what’s new is our deeper understanding of what love really is all about.
What is love? How many songs have been written about love? Of course, especially more in our day, when most in the world mention love they most instantly think of sexual acts as in the phrase, “burnin’ with love.” A lot of the time people mention love to mean simply being nice to each other, meaning pleasing, agreeable, pleasant or kind. But, by the way, the word “nice” comes originally as a word meaning “foolish, stupid,” in Latin nescius meaning ignorant. In other words love may mean nothing more than ignoring someone’s knowledge or need.
It’s too bad we have only the one word “love” that is capable of meaning so many different things. Thanks be to God however that the New Testament was written in that newer universal language call Koine Greek. For there we have four different words covering four different meanings of love. Only three are found in the Bible, the fourth meaning simply something like fishing or bowling or golf buddy. The world around us, and especially those graphic commercials concerning the condition “ED”—(look it up if you don’t know)—are concerned primarily with the number three love in Greek, eros as in erotica. In today’s text, however, Jesus uses both the first and second words for love. You’ve heard them both. The highest divine love is “agape.” The second is “phileo” as in “Philadelphia,” the city of…brotherly love.
Jesus begins by saying, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” Now the Father has loved the Son in two ways. First is the ineffable love within the Trinity. So He cannot love you in this same way. But the Father has also loved the Son because of His work and mission of salvation. This is the way Jesus says He loves His disciples, always because of the work and mission He has given us to do. “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. What commandments? The hymn of the day today describes this mission from the Father’s sending of the Son into our flesh, to slay bitter death and give us eternal life by shedding His precious blood, to be raised from death and to ascend to the Father and sending the comfort of the Holy Spirit.
This is the kind of love He commands us to have for one another, that is, the divine love that is aware and sees the need in the other person and rushes to do something to meet that need, to be of help and healing. But what do we see in the world and even in the outward Church, even within ourselves? How often are we less like the priest in the parable of the Good Samaritan and, even though confronted with the need of one in trouble, pass by on the other side of the road like the priest and Levite? Or how often have you “thrown in the towel” or given up on someone even in the family refusing to help even a little? When an otherwise despised Samaritan came along he helped the man in his need. When asked which of these three, the priest, the Levite or the Samaritan proved to be the neighbor they had to agree it was the one who did not neglect but showed mercy. Loving one another means to be aware of the neighbor’s need and to show mercy.
Then Jesus uses the other Greek word for love when He says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends. You are my friends…. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” Though we can and should still think of ourselves as “slaves or servants of Jesus Christ” as did the Apostle Paul (Philippians 1:1), out of His love for us He has raised us up to be His friends, His brothers. As St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:4-7).
This is how God loves you. As we says, “the love of intelligence and corresponding purpose.” This is how we are commanded to love one another. By being aware of the neighbors needs and doing whatever we can to help him meet that need. In marriage it is not your love that sustains the marriage but the marriage that sustains the love. The world has it upside down falling in and out of marriage. Rather, the bond of marriage frees us to fall in and out of love, freed to learn love.
Finally, as we remember that night Jesus gave us this new commandment, we also discovered the next day that it is the cross of Christ that is the symbol of that love. And we are bidden also to take up our cross and follow Him.