“Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (Jn 13:34)

by Shiu Lan

In this Sunday’s gospel reading, Jesus gives a new commandment of love to his apostles. Jesus is with his eleven apostles by themselves; having prompted Judas a few moments earlier, “What you are going to do, do quickly” (Jn 13:27). Filled with the darkness and lies of the devil, Judas “immediately went out; and it was night” (30, Ref Ignatius Catholic Study Bible 189).

When Judas has gone out, Jesus teaches the eleven a new commandment, “Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (34-35). What Jesus commands is divine love for one another that is modeled on his own acts of charity and generosity; “There is no greater love than this, to give one’s life for one’s friends; and you are my friends if you do what I command you”, “love one another” (15:13-14, 17). This supernatural love comes not from ourselves but from the Holy Spirit, the fullest expression of which consists in pouring out our lives to God as Jesus did on the Cross (Ref ICSB 189, 191).

How do the Apostles live out this new commandment? The first reading is about Paul’s first missionary journey that begins and ends in Antioch. Evangelization in the early church is dangerous work indeed. Both Gentiles and Jews attempted to attack Paul and Barnabas in Iconium (Ref Acts 14:5). They fled to Lystra, but Jews from Antioch and Iconium followed. They stoned Paul on the street, then dragged him out of the city as if he was dead. Though Paul nearly died, they carried on their journey to Derby (Ref 8-20, ICSB 231). Thereafter, despite previous threats to their lives, they still return to Lystra and Iconium where they strengthen the souls of the disciples and encourage them to continue in their faith. Paul urges believers to brace themselves for the suffering and persecution that come with being a Christian; earthly afflictions open the way to heavenly glory (Ref 22, ICSB P231). Elders have also been appointed - that alludes to the rite of priestly ordination - to provide guidance and stability to missionary communities while Paul continues his perilous travels (ICSB 231). This is a perfect model of faithful obedience to Jesus’ new commandment of love! Jesus loves them to the end, and they do love one another as Jesus commands them (Ref Jn 13:1); they are fearless to the extent of giving their lives as Christ’s witness and for the sake of the faith communities they serve. What a remarkable episode of love in the early church!

It may be somewhat overwhelming to hear Paul’s affirmation in the first reading that “It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22), we are given a glimpse of the heavenly glory that the faithful can aspire to in a passage taken from the final vision of the Book of Revelations (Ref second reading, Rev 21:1-5). In his vision, John sees all creation transformed and made radiant with the glory of God; the “new heaven… new earth” and the “new Jerusalem” – the heavenly city, whose builder and maker is God – touches down to earth. The “first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Rev 21:1-2, Ref ICSB 519). Believers are made part of the new creation in Christ. John hears a loud voice saying , “He will dwell with [humans] as their God”, “he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death … mourning and crying and pain will be no more” for the world is no longer subject to death and the damaging effects of sin (Rev 21:3-4, Ref ICSB 519).

With joyful hope of eternal life in heaven, let us faithfully follow Jesus’ commandment for us to love one another as he has loved us, every day of our lives.