A New Commandment
John 13: 31 — 35
During the time after Easter, until Pentecost, the Church reflects on the profound teaching Jesus imparted to his Apostles just before his arrest and crucifixion. This reflects how the disciples gathered to remember what the Lord had taught and to see it anew in the light of the resurrection. This process reached a special intensity during the nine days from Jesus' Ascension to Pentecost. Today we follow this pattern, and keep returning to these treasured moments with the Lord, and find that as we do so, our understanding of them grows appreciably.
On this occasion, our Lord has been having his Last Supper with his chosen Apostles. Towards the end of the meal he washed their feet and then they all settled down for a fairly lengthy time of instruction. Our reading is part of this discourse. Beyond our reading at the close of his discourse, Jesus prays his final prayer while in their company, before walking over to the Garden of Olives. The reading opens with the reference to Judas going out to betray Jesus by selling information as to his whereabouts.
Notes On Our Text
Verses 31 and 32
Jesus said, "Now is the Son of man glorified, and in him God is glorified", meaning: through his death the Son of Man reveals his true glory, and at the same time his death becomes the means by which God's glory is revealed. Our Lord goes on to say. "If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once." (Note that some early manuscripts do not have the first six words of this sentence). We recall a passage from Isaiah (49: 3) which is echoed in Jesus' words:
In the original Greek there are several changes of tenses: past, present and future. This is St John's way of making the account more than just a historic record. It is his way of making the account relevant to his contemporaries (60 years after the crucifixion) as well as future readers (ourselves included).
Jesus addresses his closest and most senior disciples as (literally) "little children". This is in the tradition of a Rabbi earnestly teaching his disciples. In our various modern cultures his expression would more likely be "my dear companions". He continues: "I will be with you a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews (the authorities) so I tell you now, that is where I am going, you cannot come".
Then comes the great high point of the discourse. Actually, the Apostles (especially St. Peter) are still lingering on our Lord's somewhat mystifying statement, "Where I am going you cannot come". Suddenly they are preoccupied at this moment with Jesus' statement of departure, and less concerned with this teaching. Nevertheless, our Lord moves on, and makes a rather startling announcement.
"I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another".
Modern day disciples of Jesus need to reflect on the powerful significance of these words. To love one another was nothing new! It was part of the Covenant of God with Israel, and reaffirmed by Jesus (Matt. 22: 39) when he was asked to recite the most important Commandment. Scholars today teach that our Lord, here, is talking about a New commandment in the same sense as he is talking about a "New Covenant in my Blood".
The idea of a new covenant was part of Jeremiah's prophecy (31: 31 — 34) and cherished by the infant Church, whose members recognised it being pointed to in Deuteronomy and Ezekiel. Jesus picks up this theme and shows that his death the next day is the means by which God renews this Covenant.
This is new, not because it is not the old way, but because it is the old carried forward into fulfilment in Jesus Christ.
Here, according to one great scholar, Jesus re-enacts the giving of the Law — now in a higher sense, and based on the free choice of Jesus to give his life for the world.
If we may express the above in the language style of today Jesus was saying something like this:
"But remember", Jesus emphasises, "the only badge which will prove that you are my disciples will be the way you show my love for one another."
The disciples of different teachers were known by their habits, or some particular creed or custom, or point of austerity, which they had adopted. The disciples of Christ, however, were known by this love which they bore to each other.
It is said of St John, that in extreme old rage, when too feeble to preach, he used to be carried into the church and would simply say to the people: "Little children, love one another." So powerfully embedded in his mind were the words of the Lord.
During the first few centuries of the early Church, there are many references in Roman literature to this love the Christians practised.
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