Jesus' "command" to love, as recalled within two sentences (Jn 13: 34 - 35), uses language very specifically to convey both Christ's love for us and our call to love.
The word "agape", Kittel tells us, holds meaning outside of its Greek origins. Initially a rather colourless word, it took on strong meaning as it reflected the Hebrew words it replaced in the Septuagint (Vol. I. p. 39). Thus it came to mean a relationship of faithfulness between God and humankind, and the mercy inherent within loving faithfulness.
Such a love called God's people to forbearance, the honouring of Creation, and to the hospitality of God.
Rev. Juliette Trudeau
Holy Name Parish,
This hospitality included even real or perceived enemies. All of this was embraced within the "duty of love".
This "duty of love" is best expressed by Jesus within his mandate in Matthew's gospel (Mt. 25: 31 - 46), a summation of his teachings as recalled by that writer (Mt. 26: 1). Kittels describes this as a bringing together of Jewish moral thought (Vol. I, p. 44). It is also the "duty of love" described in the story of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10: 29 - 37). The Good Samaritan did both what was needful and what he could do, despite ancient hatreds and cultic rules.
The "new command", given by Jesus in the very shadow of his cross, harks back to this "duty of love". It is not new excepting as it is expressed anew in the life and death of Jesus. Craddock et al (1994) suggest ". . . if love is a way of speaking and doing and being for one another, then it is not strange to speak of love for one another as a commandment."
The two brief sentences containing the "command" to love are directed to disciples in all ages. Three times we are directed in exactly the same way - using the subjunctive, present, active, second person verb. This means that Jesus' "command" is a doubtful assertion. It is an expressed desire that recognizes both limitations and refusals in the "duty of love". In contrast, Jesus' love is conveyed to us through the indicative, aorist, active, first person singular. This love, his love, is a single snapshot in time that is once and for all. It simply is. It has neither beginningness nor endlessness. It is a love offered freely. It is also the love we are to strive to emulate.
This "duty to love" is a vision of loving that goes beyond toothy smiles and vague expressions that relegate this "command" to spiritual realms or empathy, and away from the nitty gritty of life and living. One goal of Holy Name Parish is to reach out to people who have experienced this "sanitized" love in desperate or painful periods of their lives and are, in consequence, alienated from the Church. Our call, and struggle, is to be those who embrace the "duty to love" inherent in Jesus' command.
--Rev. Juliette Trudeau