As I Have Loved You
5th Sunday of Easter (C)
“I give you a new commandment,” says the Lord. “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34). These words from this Sunday’s gospel are some of the most simple and most profound in all of scripture. They are simple enough that even a child can understand them. But we should not use their simplicity as an excuse to not ponder their profound meaning with an adult understanding of faith.
A Simple Command
Often the most profound truths are simply expressed. God is three Persons in one being. The bread and wine of the Eucharist become the Body and Blood of Christ. These teachings are simple enough that a child can grasp them, but deep enough that adults can spend a life time meditating upon their meaning.
Jesus’ command for us to love one another as he loves us is like that. It gives us a very straightforward way to express the Christian moral law. In fact, it’s possible to sum up the whole law with just one word: love. Love God. Love each other.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church even says, “The entire Law of the Gospel is contained in the new commandment of Jesus, to love one another as he has loved us” (CCC 1970).
The simplicity of this commandment is a gift. There is not a single person who cannot grasp its meaning. And there is not a single person who cannot follow this command. All people are capable of loving and being loved. In fact, this is the deepest longing of our heart.
A Profound Command
As simple as it is to express, Jesus’ command to “love one another as I have loved you” is profound in its implications. Love is not an emotion. Love is something we choose. Love means willing the good of the other. The more pure our love, the more ardent and pure our desire for the other’s good will be. It is significant that Christ’s commandment is to “love one another as I have loved you.”
How does Christ love? He loves completely. He holds nothing back for our good, not even his own life. His love is self-less and self-giving. He loves even when love comes at a personal cost. He loves when when it causes him to suffer. If we are only willing to love others when its convenient or when our love doesn’t cause us pain, then we are not loving the way that Jesus loves.
Christ loves us for who we are, not what we do. Christ loves us for our own sake. Even while we were yet sinners, he loved us enough to die for us (Rom 5:8). We did not need to “earn” his love. In our interactions with each other, how often do we judge whether or not this person is worthy of our love? Worthy of our affection? Worthy of our attention? If we think someone has to earn our love, then we are not loving the way that Jesus loves.
Christ loves even his enemies. We have a hard time loving those who hurt us. Not Jesus. Even as the Roman soldiers were hammering nails through his wrists, causing him extreme agony, he was praying for their good. “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34). If we are not willing to do the same, to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, then we are not loving the way that Jesus loves.
Christ’s love is not limited. Christ doesn’t love only people from one country or with one skin color. He doesn’t only love men or only love women. He doesn’t only love the rich or the poor. Every human person is made in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:27) and is beloved by God. If we only love people who look like us, or talk like us, we are not loving the way that Jesus loves. If we think that people have to be “useful” to be worthy of love (making the unborn, the elderly, the ill and disabled second-class citizens), then we are not loving the way that Jesus loves.
To love like Christ is to love without judgment. It is not necessary for us to know the details of someone’s life in order to love them with Christian charity. It is enough for us to know that Christ loves them. You will never look into the eyes of a person that God does not love. Think about that the next time you meet someone new, or have problems relating to someone.
Love is the life of God. By loving us as he does, Jesus shows us the Father’s heart. And he asks us to love each other with the same heart. That may seem impossible by human standards. But by incorporating us mystically into his body through baptism, and nourishing us with his grace through the Eucharist, Christ enables us to love with this divine power. That’s a mystery so profound that the greatest theologians can ponder it for a lifetime. It’s a mystery the saints will be contemplating for eternity.