In Jesus’ last discourse with the disciples, he says, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” (John 13:34; repeated at John 15:12)
St. Augustine asks how is this a new commandment and is it not contained in the old law? “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18) Augustine answers his own question. Jesus is setting a new standard. We are to love by more than how we love ourselves, a love motivated by self-interest. Rather, we are to love in the same way Jesus loved his disciples and us.
How did Jesus love his disciples and how does he love us?
- He called each of them personally, as he does us.
- He taught them by his word and example, as we are taught by Scripture and the Holy Spirit.
- He prayed for them, as he intercedes for us with the Father.
- He who was God, humbled himself to become one of us, and laid down his life for all of us.
Let me offer a story of how this can play out in real life.
John was a county prosecutor in Minnesota. In one of his early cases he was surprised to look across the counsel table and see a former high school friend, Jim, as the defendant. Over the next twenty-six years, Jim would be prosecuted many times for theft-related crimes to support a chemical dependency.
In subsequent cases, when John saw Jim in court he told him that he was praying for him. At first, Jim would say, “John, don’t waste your time,” but then he would come to appreciate that someone was caring about him.
In a final case, Jim was again caught with a large cache of stolen goods, pleaded guilty, and was on his way back to prison. While awaiting sentencing, Jim learned that he was terminally ill with sclerosis of the liver. His lawyer persuaded the court to let him die in hospice outside of prison. Jim also asked his lawyer to request that John pray for him.
Over the next six months, John did more than just pray for him. He visited Jim two to four times a week. They would reminisce about growing up together and talking about their favorite baseball teams and players. They also read the Bible together. That fall, Jim repented of his sins and surrendered his life to Jesus Christ. He died in late November.
John observed, “Over those last six months, I frequently called Jim ‘brother’ because we were brothers in Christ. Jim loved reading and praying the psalms, and they have new meaning to me now. God used Jim to teach me about acceptance of suffering and perseverance, and he showed me that it is never too late to say yes to the Lord, no matter what we have done in the past.”
John concludes, “Because God answers prayers, Jim said ‘yes’ to Christ before he died, and I know he is in paradise today – just like another thief who died on a cross next to Jesus 2000 years ago.”
John laid down his life for Jim with his time and support, and patiently guided him to Christ.
“Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, 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.” (1 Cor. 13:4-7)