Religions impose commandments upon their followers. Moses introduced 10 commandments from a mountaintop, and many more rules were added later, affecting the daily lives of Hebrew people down through history to this very day. The Catholic church embraced these 10 commandments, added its own "precepts" of the church and later a lengthy code of canon law. Muslims have their Five Pillars of faith that obligate them to fulfill particular responsibilities during their lifetime. The list goes on and on!
Since Jesus was born of Jewish parents, was familiar with Hebrew Scriptures and had a remarkable relationship with his Abba God, one might wonder whether or not he had any unique commandment to pass on to his own followers, to us Christians who today are his disciples. Of course Jesus was faithful to his Hebrew roots, though he often railed against his fellow Jews for having only a superficial understanding of God in their lives. Most often, when Jesus spoke of commandments, he was repeating ones already familiar to him and his Jewish listeners.
But there was one time in his life when Jesus did introduce a new commandment, one no one had previously heard. It was during the Passover meal with his disciples, the evening before his death by crucifixion. Jesus knew his time on earth was soon to end, so he saved this command for that precise moment. It is the only new commandment he ever gave us. You heard it in today's Gospel: A new commandment I give you, that you love one another as I have loved you."
Some commandments tell us what not to do, but not this one. Some commandments get very specific and detailed, but not this one. It's really so simple. Yet we continue to misunderstand it. We keep confusing love with its cheap imitations: liking someone, infatuation, sentimentality, passion, a teen crush, a warm and comfortable feeling : all very nice, but not one of these is love.
To love is to give someone your heart and never take it back. Love is present in good times and bad, in sickness and in health. Love is demonstrated in serving ones beloved. It does what needs to be done. Certainly, love has its bad days when the heart seems cold, when there are few if any cheery thoughts to uplift ones spirit; but even then love never falters.
The unique key to keeping this new commandment of Jesus is in the last five words: "Love...as I have loved you." When we ask: how does Jesus love us? The answer comes quickly:. He loves us by accepting us as we are while still challenging us to become better, He loves us by forgiving our sinfulness and healing our woundedness. He loves us by giving us hope and gently reminding us that we are destined for life in abundance. He loves us by listening and responding to our needs and providing us with a caring community. He loves us by keeping us focused on what's truly important. We haven't experienced a love like that before. So we look to Jesus as our model and mentor. He gave his all. He gave us his whole heart and never took it back. May he help us give our hearts away, and never, never take them back.