May 15, 2022
Read the passage at the bottom of this post: John 13:31-35, The Message or John 13:31-35, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
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This passage is taken from a much longer, more complex and richly significant telling of Jesus' last supper with his followers before his betrayal, arrest, trial, torture and execution. The first verse of John 13 sets the context:
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go the Father. Having loved (agape) his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
For the first 12 chapters of John, "the hour has not yet come," or "the hour is coming."
But now, after having raised Lazarus, and the decision having been made by the Judean authorities in Jerusalem to have Jesus arrested, "the hour had come."
And so, after Judas leaves to go and initiate the events that lead to his arrest and all that will follow, "Now the Son of Man will be given glory."
Note: in John, "now" and "the hour" are used non-literally to refer to whole time of the following events which are viewed as a seamless whole. In effect, time stands still during Chapters 13 to 21. See Bruce Malina, Richard Rohrbaugh, et. al. footnote below.
Like a good patriarch, Jesus uses his final hours telling those closest to him what will happen in the future, bestowing blessings, and explaining what they must do in his absence in order to carry on his legacy.
What is Jesus' legacy - his estate? What wealth has Jesus to leave his followers? I know it's a cliche, but the answer is love (agape). "Love as I have loved you. By this love others will know that you are my followers."
Now the commandment to love is not new. The Great Commandment to love God with one's whole self and to love one's neighbour as one loves oneself are found in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. The only new part of this commandment is "as I have loved you."
So there are at least two challenges in this commandment.
One is to deeply and correctly discern how Jesus loves and to express that way of loving in our own lives. (Actually this is two challenges not one.)
And the other - especially for us in the old line denominations - is to let the "you" be me.
In other words, the commandment is NOT: Love one another as I have loved someone else.
The commandment is: Love one another as I have loved YOU.
And to hear this as Jesus addressing me and not just the disciples 2,000 years ago.
I'll leave aside the "let the 'you' be me" challenge for the moment since that is a challenge I have no experience or wisdom to offer.
But I do have a lot of experience of church folks trying to love one another, but NOT "as I, Jesus, have loved."
In other words, we have put our own understandings on what loving one another means.
Usually it means being nice. It can often mean tolerating bad behaviour. And it almost always means don't do anything that would cause someone to be upset and leave.
Which, when you ponder Jesus' life are three things "love as I love" does not mean.
I wonder what a congregation would be like if it exemplified the way Jesus loves?
Note: Historical background information is primarily from Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, pages 183-191; and the writings of Amy-Jill Levine, et. al. See link below.
John 13:31-35 (NRSV)
31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, 'Where I am going, you cannot come.' 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
John 13:31-35 (The Message)
31 When he had left, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man is seen for who he is, and God seen for who he is in him. The moment God is seen in him, 32 God's glory will be on display. In glorifying him, he himself is glorified—glory all around!
33 "Children, I am with you for only a short time longer. You are going to look high and low for me. But just as I told the Jews, I'm telling you: 'Where I go, you are not able to come.'
34 "Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. 35 This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other."
Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce J. Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on ... The Synoptic Gospels; The Gospel of John; The Book of Acts; The Letters of Paul; The Book of Revelation; and others.
+ Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, Jewish Annotated New Testament, The Bible With and Without Jesus, Short Stories by Jesus, Entering the Passion of Jesus, and others.