“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (verses 34-35)
Here’s a command that is so important that Jesus mentions it several times on the night before he goes to the cross. “Love one another.” Clearly it’s central in his desire for all who will follow him. But, oh, how much of a stretch it continues to be!
Of course the essence of this command – “love one another” – has always been crucial for those who are part of the family of God. Jesus himself draws it out of the Old Testament scriptures as the second half of the Great Commandment: "Love your neighbour as yourself."
Why then does he now call it “new”? The reason comes simply and clearly in the very next phrase. “As I have loved you.” Oh, yes that’s new – new indeed!
Especially when we remember he had just stripped off his outer clothing, dressed himself as a servant, taken basin and towel, and gotten down at each pair of dirty feet, ready to wash and cleanse and relieve. Oh, that’s what you mean. Love like that.
This love that Jesus demonstrates involves laying aside rights. We see it clearly at the table that night. He was their Lord and Teacher, the only one who had no obligation whatsoever to get up and wash feet. And yet he laid aside privilege and did exactly that. He came down to serve. But this, of course, was only an infinitesimal picture of the far greater descent from the heights of heaven, stepping down into the reality of human existence. He “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:6-7). And then he stepped down further, going to the cross.
Love like that, Jesus says. And what will that mean for us? It means, when facing menial tasks, we stop assessing rank, evaluating our privilege against everyone else’s, measuring to see if we really need to serve – no, instead just step right in. It means not weighing the prestige of the task itself, whether it will bring us glory, or be good for our resume – no, instead just step right in. It means not clinging to our own priorities, but instead just doing what needs to be done. It means that in meetings of family or church or neighbourhood, not pressing for our own preferences, especially when we’ve got the rank to do so. As Paul will later put it, “you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). Lay aside your rights.
The love Jesus demonstrates also willingly pays the price. It cost something – discomfort, uncleanness – to get those feet clean. The cross cost more. But he did it. And what will that mean for us? Inconvenience comes to mind – stepping in to serve even when we’d prefer to do anything but. Using our own resources for someone else’s need. Spending time with someone who taxes our patience. Giving a listening ear even at the end of an exhausting day.
And the love Jesus demonstrates is a love that washes clean. He did it with basin and towel, but even more so at the cross. How do we enter into such cleansing? Forgiveness is the word. We love by forgiving, even when the person doesn’t deserve it, even when they’ve treated us as an enemy. Forgive “just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).
Oh, how this command stretches. It never stops. But our Lord and Teacher loved like this. So, too, should we. With his example before us. With his Spirit within us. With people around us as human as we are ourselves. Love like Jesus.
Lord Jesus, thank you for loving me selflessly. Grip my mind and will to follow your lead, to love like that. Give me eyes to see. Soften my heart to respond. Help me, Lord, by your Spirit – each step of the way.
Reflect: Two days ago, this reflection involved asking the Lord to bring to mind an act of service that would follow his lead. Did you do it? Ask again, ready to respond.