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Posts Tagged "John 13:31-35"

A New Command?

May 19, 2019
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation is from our Gospel lesson, especially where Jesus tells His disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

For whatever reason, my friends, we’re back. During this blessed, hopeful, joyful season of Easter, when we celebrate our Lord Jesus’s resurrection from the dead … we have returned to the upper room, on the night before Jesus was crucified. Don’t ask me why. By this point in our text, Jesus has washed His disciples’ feet, admonishing them to do likewise. His troubled spirit has disclosed to them that one of their number was going to betray Him. And Judas has accepted the bread from his Rabbi’s hand and dipped in the bowl, and now he’s gone, vanished, into the darkest night, where no good thing happens.

Now, Jesus speaks. “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him. If God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and glorify Him at once.” Judas’s exit is the spark that sets in motion the events that will lead to Golgotha. Jesus knows what is about to transpire, and more importantly, its purpose, what will come of what He is about to endure. Thus, He says, “Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’” That is, to the cross. To the just punishment that sin deserves, to both that hell on Calvary’s tree as the Suffering Servant, and to the domain of Satan, to flaunt victory in the face of the enemy. We could not go there, because we could not endure that hell, thus the loving Good Shepherd we heard about last week would not allow His sheep to go there. He was heading to do battle with the old evil foe, and He begins His parting words by telling His beloved disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

We hear this as the “New Moses” Jesus, right? The perfect Law-Giver? After all, love is the summation of the law. Sounds reasonable, and certainly, we do affirm that we are called to truly love one another … buuuuuut … is that actually what Jesus is saying here?

We humans are such legalists; we hear the word “commandment” and we think about things that we need to do. It’s something built into our sinful flesh, the idea that life is about doing the right thing. It’s about being good. You see that reflected in this translation; it sounds like Jesus is mandating His disciples to love, commanding them to love, just as He has loved them, and since it’s a “new” commandment, their salvation depends upon it. Our salvation depends upon it. That’s what we hear, and if you’re like me, you get an uneasy feeling from hearing this.

It’s a tall order, to say the least, to love just as Jesus has loved us! As a sinner, I don’t find it within myself to, of myself, love like Jesus loves me. I’m not Jesus; I’m a selfish, self-preserving jerk, to be frank, and I know that all of you can (and should) say the same thing, because that’s what we are. We’re sinners; we are unable to love like Jesus! It gets worse if you extrapolate this meaning to the end of our text; if people will only know us as Jesus’s disciples by our ability to show this unattainable love to one another, then the question of whether or not I truly am a disciple of Jesus creeps into my mind, and upon further examination of the 1,255,997,000 times in my life when I have not loved as Jesus loves me, well, I see that I’m in deep trouble.

That’s what the Law does. It convicts us. That’s all it really can do; it drives us to our knees with the dark and stark realization that its precepts are perfect, and we are wholly unable to keep even one iota of it. Ours is a truly desperate state, and if our salvation is dependent upon our ability to keep the Law – even the law to love one another – then we’re already damned.

But I don’t think that’s what Jesus is getting at. The word entole in Greek doesn’t strictly need to be translated as the legalistic “commandment,” as the translators have given us here. In fact, this is the same word in Matthew 28 more often translated as “commission,” as in, the “Great Commission.” It’s a saying, a writ, the truth of what is. It needn’t be something that we must do; rather, it could be the proclamation of what is being done to us.

So what Jesus is saying? What’s this new word that He’s giving to the disciples and to us? To love one another? Not really; the Old Testament pretty explicitly told Yahwehists to love their neighbor, so that’s not a new thing. What is new here is the new thing that God was doing through Jesus of Nazareth, Who is rightly called the Christ. The new thing is the good news that Jesus had just delivered to His disciples: namely, His death to atone for the sins of the whole world, His victory over Satan and the grave, and His resurrection over defeated death!

Without giving you a lesson in koine Greek, may I humbly submit to you an alternative translation of these verses in John: “In light of this good news I have just given you – that I am glorified in the Father because of My upcoming victory over sin, death, and the devil – a new truth, a new reality, a new commission I give to you in order that you may love one another, just as I have loved you. By this new proclamation that My upcoming crucifixion and resurrection is the fulfillment of all things, the world will know that you are My disciples, and as a result, you will have love amongst one another.”

Whew, a bit long-winded, but do you hear the difference? Jesus gives us this new commission, this new reality that He has died and risen from death for the forgiveness of our sins, and as a result, we are actually going to love one another! Not the love that pagans know – the self-serving love that loves those that love them – but rather the love that God has for you, His former enemies, now declared to be His children! That love, that faith is now imputed into you and flowing out from you to those around you! That’s what Jesus is giving us: our confession! Our creed, all that we believe, teach, and confess as Christians – that’s the new thing He’s giving to us! And the beautiful result of this new good news is an overflowing of love to one another – not in and of ourselves, but because He first loved us and gave His life for us!

Far be it from me to question the choice of the lectionary writers for choosing this as a possible Gospel text for the Fifth Sunday of Easter. Far be it from me to question why translators have, over decades and centuries, made the exegetical move to translate these words with a legalistic tone instead of an evangelical one. That’s not of real concern to me. What is of concern to me is that you, the beloved disciples of Jesus Christ, hear this new “command,” not as something you must do, but something that has been done to you! This is the present reality, my friends! Jesus died, Jesus rose, Jesus is coming back again! This is our confession, and by it, people will know that we are His disciples, and that His love dwells among us!

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

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