The central theme of the Gospel is the new commandment given by Jesus. Is it really a new commandment? To love one another is not a new commandment. Even in the Old Testament, in the books of Leviticus (Lev 19:18), Lord asks the people of Israel to love their neighbour as they love themselves. Then what is the difference Jesus brings with his new commandment? Jesus brings a new criterion for love. That is to love as Jesus loved us. That is the difference between the Old Testament love and the Love of Jesus. We need to love our neighbour not as we love ourselves but as Jesus loved us. How did Jesus love us? He loved us by giving His life on the Cross.
Very often, we try to define love on our own terms. When we do so, we tend to love those who are close to us, family and friends, or those who will appreciate our love and reciprocate it, or those whom we find it easy to love. In short, we like to choose the people we love rather than loving the people God places in our lives. The love of Jesus teaches us a different criterion. Jesus loved Judas and Peter. To Judas, He offered a sharing in the Last Supper even though He knew full well that he was about to betray Him. To Peter Jesus offered encouragement and friendship even though He knew that Peter was about to deny Him. Jesus washed the feet of the disciples to give them an example of how to love: by being humble, sacrificial, and self-giving for those who need it, and not just for those who will appreciate it.
So, Jesus is asking us to love one another sacrificially. We must be willing to lay down our lives for another.
Then He says: “By this, all men will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another”. This is something very important. Our love for one another manifests that we are His disciples. Our love for another is the criterion for being His disciple.
Jesus does not say that the way people will know that we are His disciples is by the miracles we perform. No, but he says that the way people will know we are His disciples is by our love. Indeed, love attracts anyone far more powerfully, even than miracles do. It is also true that we can always start doubting about a miracle, whether it happened or not. But there’s a real power to the reality of having been loved, especially having been loved sacrificially. No one can deny that one of the martyrs who laid down their lives for the sake of the Gospel didn’t actually love the people they were dying for.
The supreme expression of sacrificial love is being willing to die for someone else, but the highest expression is being willing to die for the salvation of someone else, making someone else’s eternal salvation more important to us than our own natural life is. That is everywhere on display, not just in the lives of the apostles who were martyred but in the lives of all missionaries who have ever given up their lives for the sake of the Gospel and who have ever died for the salvation of another person’s soul. In their lives and in their witness, we see what true discipleship really looks like. So, let’s not forget that evangelization is implicit in Jesus’ new commandment of love.
It is also important to note that Jesus does not say that by loving as He loved, we will be a Christian or believer but a disciple. A disciple is supposed to study what the master says, listen to what he teaches, and do what he does. They are called to imitate him and to live as he lived. Often we talk about discipleship and reduce it to being a believer. So being a disciple is much more than just believing. Because we can believe and not do anything he said. We can believe that he’s Divine, the son of God, and disobey him or abandon him or betray him. But a true disciple imitates Him.
In scriptures, we see the unholy angels (Satan) who know the truth, their intellects grasp it, but their will reject it. Therefore, even if we believe but don’t make an act of the will to choose the good for another and if we don’t love one another as he loved us, we’re not His disciples, but we remain as wicked angels.
Let us reflect on ourselves. Are we true disciples of Jesus? Are we able to manifest our true discipleship through our love? Not only for the material need of the other but also the need of the salvation of the other?
The commandment to love sounds pleasant as long as we can define what love means, but loving as Jesus loved is difficult and challenging. So let us ask for His grace, as we consume His body and blood, to change our lives, and we may be transformed to love as He loved.