“The New Commandment”, Fifth Sunday of Easter, by Fr. Reu

Jesus said to his disciples, “I give you a new commandment: love one another; just as I have loved you, so also must you love one another” (In 13:34). The measuring stick of Christian love then is not our “selves” but Jesus.

I once heard in a send-off gathering: “the pain of hello is goodbye”. Separation is always painful, especially in established relationships, because presence is irreplaceable. Absence is often considered as a situation of disequilibrium, disharmony, lack, insecurity and vulnerability, and sometimes of negativity. And although human beings can adapt with absence with the passage of time, yet deep within the human heart is a longing for fulfillment, for reunion, for restoration, for a return. One of the ways the human heart copes with absence is to remember – or keep alive in one’s memory the words and actions of the beloved.

Our Gospel this Sunday talks about the farewell instruction of Jesus to his disciples through a new commandment. Jesus comes like a parent who issues reminders before leaving home — “be good and behave well”. In the Filipino tradition, we think of the “paalala” (reminder), or at the death bed, the so-called huling habilin (final instruction). For most part, the instruction consists of caring for one another especially the weaker members and to maintain harmony with one another. How these “last words” could influence our lives would depend on how much we value the person saying them.

Jesus said to his disciples, “I give you a new commandment: love one another; just as I have loved you, so also must you love one another” (Jn 13:34). But is there really something new in this “new commandment”? In the Hebrew Scriptures we read: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18). Jesus, on the other hand, said, “love as I have loved you.” The measuring stick of Christian love then is not our “selves” but Jesus. And the cross is the symbol of this love – undeserved, sacrificial, unconditional, and redemptive. This love knows no boundaries – it goes out to the poor, the sick, outcast, wicked, corrupt and sinful. It is a love that embraces sin and suffering and transforms them from within, as only gratuitous loving can. It is a love that empties out in self-giving.

The Christian approach to loving is an invitation of Jesus to consider life and love as self-effacing, community-oriented, and God-centered. It empowers us to love because we have been loved first by Jesus. Finally, by loving we come to know more who we are and how God works through us. This is Jesus’ farewell instruction because this “new commandment”, which is a “new kind of love”, will manifest his presence among us. We then become his witnesses to the world.

As published on April 28, 2013, SSAP Parish Bulletin

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