27 December 2007

John 13:21-35

"I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (v.34-35)


This passage follows on from where Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. In doing so, Jesus is offering his followers a new model of leadership that they are asked to emulate.

In today's passage Jesus informs his disciples that one of them will betray him. The shock of this moment is then replaced by Jesus' command that the disciples love one another - this is the radical nature of the new commandment - that they love one another, even the one who has betrayed them.

This new commandment from Jesus sits at the heart of the Christian message and has implications for inside and outside the community of faith.

Inside the faith, the followers of Christ are asked to love another for "by this everyone will know that you are my disciples" (v.35). The way in which the followers love one another will be a sign of their commitment to (belonging to) and their actual living the common life in Christ Jesus.

Sadly, as we reflect on the final echoes of this year; one in which we have remembered the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade, many ancestors of enslaved Africans will reflect ruefully on this text.

Even when enslaved Africans became Christians, there was little evidence of this love ethic as displayed by their often Christian White slave masters. Again there was little evidence of the love ethic shown when many of their descendents travelled to the UK in the migration of the 1950s and 1960s. "Love one another?"

It is no wonder, then, that many enslaved Africans and, later, their descendents in Britain questioned the alleged nature of so-called British Christianity. Looking from the outside in, many may have wondered whether several 'good White English Christians' had ever read this passage at all.

To Ponder

In what ways have you failed to love your neighbour as yourself in the last year?

How can the Church inspire people in Britain to 'love another' as Jesus commanded?

Bible notes author

Dr Anthony Reddie

Dr Anthony Reddie is a Research Fellow in Black Theological Studies for the Methodist Church and the Queen's Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education in Birmingham. He is the author of a number of books and is the editor of Black Theology: An International Journal.