We have a rather unusual situation in today’s liturgy in that the Gospel passage is basically the same as it was on yesterday’s feast of St. Matthias. Here in John 15 we are still at the Last Supper where we have been in the liturgy for some time now. And Jesus gives his Apostles the great commandment to love one another as he has loved them. In giving this commandment to his Apostles, the Lord is giving it to the whole Church, to all who will follow him throughout the ages. There are other things the Lord says here, but let us concentrate on this single great commandment of Christ’s that we love one another.
What is it to love one another? It is certainly not to be in love with one another. That is a romantic understanding of love. Nor is it even the kind of love a mother has for her child or a child for their mother, as wonderful as love like that is. The kind of love Jesus means here the Greeks referred to as agape, the higher love that the Apostle Paul famously spoke of to the church in Corinth in chapter 13 of the First Letter to the Corinthians. There Paul tells us that without this higher love, there is nothing of value, nothing that matters, no matter how great it may seem. Paul says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” And this love will never end. It will follow us throughout eternity and is the very essence of eternal life. It is from God and leads to God for as 1 John says, God is love.
To love one another is to love as God loves us. God, as Jesus told Nicodemus, who so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son. It is the kind of love expressed in the great parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 where the father does not even seem to remember the sins of his son but rather embraces him, puts the ring on his finger, gives him sandals and the finest robe and throws him a huge feast to celebrate his coming home. It is unconditional love that asks nothing in return.
The great hallmarks of this higher love Jesus calls us to have with one another is forgiveness and acceptance. It has nothing to do with whether we find the beloved attractive or not, worthy or not, lovable or not. It is not about friendship. If you love those who love you, says the Lord, what credit is that to you? We are to love even our enemies. We are meant to love everyone without exception. Jesus says that the greatest love is to lay down one’s life for another. It is all about the other in following Christ, never about ourselves.
So in these troubled times, let us strive to focus on the other and to seek to forget our own troubles and fears. Let us strive to be kind and patient with all. To pray daily for the sick, the poor, the lonely, the aged and the dying. Let us seek to always be ready to help those in need, those afraid, those lost and those abandoned. If you give so much as a cup of cold water to these little ones, says the Lord, you will not lack for your reward. To love one another is to deeply care for the other, especially the other who the world often turns away from, often disdains. To love one another is to ignore faults and seeming differences, to continually forgive, to continually accept, to continually stay positive and kind. There are so many ways to practice love and it takes practice. We often fail but do not let that discourage you from continually trying. This is what God has chosen us for. This is to be fully alive. To love one another as Jesus loved us. This is what it is to be a friend of Jesus.