What’s new about Jesus talking about love? Earlier in his ministry, he answered a question about the greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God will all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus always talked about love. So, again, what’s new?
The newness, I think, is the nowness of the moment Jesus utters this word. Knowing he is about to die, he shares his last will and testament with his friends: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Love, Jesus says, no longer only to the extent you love yourself, but rather with the totality, the finality I will demonstrate in my dying. What’s new about this love is its unconditionality; without qualification or quantification.
As I think about loving this way, I know that I can and will fall short. No matter how accurately I perceive your desire or need, no matter how faithfully I respond, you may want or need more. And my love isn’t something I can increase on demand by doing more, much less, being more.
Nevertheless, in that instant moment, what I have to give is all I can give. And it is in the how of my giving, as I choose to give in the totality of my self, that demonstrates that I love you as Jesus loves me.
Now, although the newness of Jesus’ love is related to his dying, demonstrating the total and final extent to which this love goes, Jesus issues this command to his followers. “By this, all will know that you are my disciples.” Jesus isn’t calling his followers to die for one another. If so, there would be no community. What Jesus does command is that his followers live for one another unconditionally, without qualification or quantification.
This, I dare to believe, is the love the world needs. Not folk dying for one another or, worse, killing one another. But living for one another. This is infinitely harder than dying for one another. Living for one another takes longer and lacks glamour. It means enduring the difficulty of our human differences and, when becoming familiar, dealing with those moments of mutual contempt when we don’t like one another.
Yet this, I believe, was, is what Jesus is about. Love. Unconditional. Unqualified. Unquantified.
We humans, whatever our culture or creed, ethnicity or nationality, gender or age may not have opportunity to die for one another. Yet each of us, in each and every instant, has a life to live for one another. And if we actually attempted to do that, that would be what’s new!