I give you a new commandment, says the Lord:
love one another as I have loved you. Jn 13:34
Jesus said to his disciples:
“To you who hear I say,
love your enemies, do good
to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who mistreat you.
To the person who strikes you
on one cheek,
offer the other cheek as well,
and from the person who takes
do not withhold even your tunic.
Give to everyone who asks of you,
and from the one who takes what
is yours do not demand it back.
Do to others as you would have
them do to you.
For if you love those who love you,
what credit is that to you?
It is not the mandate to love that is unique about Jesus' teachings, but, rather, the commandment to love one another as he has loved us. The whole Jewish Law is based on the love of God (Dt 6:4-9), and love of neighbor (Lvt 19); in fact, Jesus' teachings on loving one's neighbor as oneself, forgiveness of enemies, foregoing hatred and revenge, and caring for the foreigners among us all echo Leviticus 19. When a scholar of the Law asks Jesus what he must do to gain eternal life, Jesus tells him to name what is written in the Law and then affirms the man's answer (Lk 10:25-28). Clearly, his own understanding of love has been shaped by Judaism. During the Last Supper, however, Jesus washes his disciples' feet and then, after Judas' departure and before his prediction of Peter's denial, he announces his
What did this mean to his disciples? What went through their minds as they tried to fathom the implications of this commandment?
Perhaps some of them remembered how he had called the least likely of people to be his followers -- illiterate fishermen, hated tax collectors, women and men of dubious repute.... Perhaps they recalled his patience when they were slow of understanding, and how protective he had always been of them -- teaching them through parables, sending them out in two's so they could support each other, calling them friends not servants, gently chastising them when they were in need of correction rather than publicly humiliating them .... They also remembered the love he had shown for everyone they encountered along the way-- the blind, the deaf, the lame, those possessed by demons, those afflicted with leprosy, those who had lost loved ones, those on the fringes of society....
Later, the post-Resurrection community would remember how Jesus tried to prepare them for his passion and death, promising to send the Holy Spirit so they would not be left "orphaned," promising to return to them (Jn 14:15-31). A
fter he had calmed their fears, t
hey would experience his forgiveness, as well as the spiritual power he invested in them. They would remember all this and so much more-- and this was how they were were to love one another, not just those who had gathered with him around the Passover table on the night before he died, but all those who would come to believe in him. As Paul writes in Phil 2: 6-11, Jesus' love for humanity involved a complete self-emptying and absolute humility:
"Though he was in the form of God,
he did not regard equality with God
as something to be grasped at.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness...
obedient to death,
even death on a cross."
If we are to love one another as Jesus has loved us then we, like the disciples, need to remember not just the model of self-denying love to be found in the Gospels, but also the ways we have experienced his love in our own lives. I should add here that "self-denying love" does not involve becoming the victims of any form of abuse or staying in situations in which we cannot grow. Toxic environments are unhealthy and work against the mandate to love ourselves. The call to discipleship is a call to healthy loving in which we treat others as we would be treated. We can forgive our enemies and let go of both hatred and the desire for revenge, but we don't have to associate with -- let alone live with-- those who would harm us in any way. Christian love is freely given and freely received. It does not control, manipulate, imprison, diminish or exploit; nor does it intimidate others nor force them to be dependent upon us. Christian love respects the whole person; it is liberating, comforting, empowering, healing, inspiring and inclusive. It has no motives and no agenda beyond the well-being of the person whom we love. When we encounter such love in our own lives, then we have encountered the Christ. It is this kind of love that is the hallmark of Christian discipleship.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
- Have you ever loved someone with total "self-emptying" in a healthy way?
- Have you ever been the recipient of such love?
- Have you ever been in an unhealthy relationship and, if so, what was that like for you?
- How can you love others as you love yourself?
- How do YOU experience the love of Christ in your own life?