05 April 2012

mandatum novum

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34).  Those are the words of Jesus to his disciples on the night we remember as Maundy Thursday.  How is this a “new” commandment?  The Old Testament already says to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).

Could it be that Jesus, as the God-man/God-human (and the God-servant, as we will see), sees that love is what inaugurates the future?  It opens the door.  Failing to love, indeed love among his own, produces nothing truly new.  It’s the same old tired story that the world has always known.  Set limits to one’s love and creativity.  In his commentary on John, Rudolf Bultmann notes, “The command of love…is ‘new’ in so far as it is a phenomenon of the new world which Jesus has brought into being.” (527)

Jesus has just performed an action which only the gospel of John mentions.  The other gospels describe the sharing of bread and wine—the institution of the Eucharist.  John speaks of Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples, the duty of a servant.  In his Daily Meditation for today, Richard Rohr says that John “wanted to give a theology of the Eucharist that revealed the meaning behind the breaking of the bread.  He made it into an active ritual of servanthood and solidarity, instead of the priestly cult that it has largely become.”

Peter objects to this.  We all do, in our own way.  We don’t want to hear Jesus say, “I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (v. 15).  This “new” commandment takes us into strange, uncharted territory.

I wonder if we can help each other to hold on and take a ride? 

(The image is by G. M. Ehlert)

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