Saturday

23 August 2014

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.” (v. 34)


Background

These few verses are dominated by two words: "glory" and "love", words that are central to the Gospel of John's understanding of Jesus. "Glory" is a difficult word to define - it comes from the Greek word, 'doxa', from which we get 'doxology'. It is a quality that makes God worthy of praise and for John that glory is incarnate in the person of Jesus: "we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son" (John 1:14). So the whole of Jesus' life and ministry has been a sign and expression of the glory of God, but now, on the eve of what looks like total failure, that glory is especially present.

Just as Jesus shares in the glory of God, so his disciples will participate in the life he offers. But there is only one way for that to happen, the way of love. The phrase "a new commandment" became 'mandatum novum' in Latin and gave its name to Maundy Thursday, when this passage is always read. But in one sense it is not a new commandment; after all, Leviticus 19:18 urges the Jewish people to "love your neighbour as yourself". What is new here is that just as self-giving, sacrificial love has been the foundation of Jesus' incarnation, so now mutual love is the only way in which the disciples can follow Jesus and share in his life with God.

And still the disciples -especially Peter - don't quite get it. Peter is full of bravado but Jesus sees how frail he really is; he will have to go through the chastening experience of denial (John 17:15-27) and forgiveness (John 21:15-19) before he is ready to respond to Jesus' challenge.

If Christians have found it hard to follow the apparently simple instruction of Jesus to wash each other's feet, they have found it even harder to follow his injunction to love each other. The fact that John's Gospel makes this instruction so central to the story suggests that even the early Christians were finding it hard to live together in a Christ-like way.


To Ponder

  • Where do you see 'the glory of the Lord' in the life of the Church and the world?
  • What has been your most inspiring example of Christian love?
  • What practical steps can you take in order to follow Jesus' command to "love one another"?


Bible notes author:  The Revd Dr Richard Clutterbuck

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