The context for today’s gospel is the Last Supper. Jesus had just finished washing the feet of his apostles. It is after this act of service, a service done by slaves to guests who entered a home, that Jesus gives this new commandment to all of us. In the Old Testament Moses gave the people the commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind and you shall love your neighbour as yourself.” In the time of Moses ‘neighbour’ meant family or tribe. Strangers were not included. Jesus adds to this ancient commandment the words, “love one another as I have loved you.” We know that Jesus’ love for us brought his to death on the cross.
One of the Fathers of the Church writes, “Christ commands us to love as he did, putting neither reputation, nor wealth, not anything whatever before the love of our brothers and sisters. If need be we must even be prepared to face death for our neighbour’s salvation as did our Saviour’s blessed disciples and those who followed in their footsteps.”
Love one another as I have loved you. This is a hard saying; this is asking too much, this is beyond my ability. Maybe it is beyond our ability right now. So we pray for the grace to be able to love as we have been loved. We pray, “Lord increase the little love I have.”
Can we find it our hearts to love those who planted the bombs in Boston? Can we find it in our hearts to love solders who slaughter innocent men, women and children in Syria? Can we find it in our hearts to love people who have brought death and destruction into the lives of people they don’t even know? Can we find it in our hearts to love the husband or wife or parent who walked out of our lives? Can we find it in our hearts to love family members who wronged us? Can we find it in our hearts to love people who have put us out of their lives because of our personal beliefs, our social standing or our lifestyles? Can we find in our hearts to love friends or strangers who have wronged us in any way? Maybe not right now. But we can pray for the strength we need to love, to forgive, to let go of past hurts.
Remember this: when Jesus hung on the cross, dying in pain, struggling to breathe, calling out for a drop of water to ease his thirst, he looked down at his mother, so devastated by his suffering, so helpless and he looked at those who mocked and jeered him, those who were so satisfied that they’d finally brought him down, challenging him to come down from the cross, and lovingly said these words, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” St. Paul reminds us that “even when we were sinners Christ loved enough to die for us.”
To love someone doesn’t necessarily mean we like that person. To love someone means we recognize the God given dignity of that person and respect it. When we see an unkempt, smelly street person; a scruffy panhandler at an intersection; when we see desperate, unemployed, landless people seeking a new life in our country we see a person as loved by God as we are. When we see angry and violent young people caught in a drug bust we see a person Christ loved even to death.
Every person who comes into our lives, a friend or someone with whom we would have nothing to do with, a person we like or dislike, a pleasant person or a person with whom we have nothing in common, each person confronts us with this new, difficult and troublesome commandment, “love one another as I have loved you.”
Our love for another is expressed in service. When all is said and done, when all is over, we will be judged by love alone. Love spoken must be love lived. I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was naked, I was a stranger, I was alone and you came to me, you were there for me, you looked beyond how I looked, or what I wore, or where I came from, or what I believed, or who I loved. You were there for me, welcome to the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
As we continue to celebrate this Mass in which we give thanks for the crucified Christ’s love for us, we pray for ourselves and for each other that we be graced with the love we need in our hearts and lives to love everyone who comes into our lives with the gracious love with which Christ loved us.