Signpost for Sunday 19 May 2019: Acts 11:1-18; Ps 148; Rev 21:1-6; John 13:31-35.
What a strange way for a reading from the lectionary to begin: When he had gone out. You’ll be sitting in church. Thinking, who? Or more likely you’ll completely miss that opening sentence.
It’s Judas Escariot who has gone out before Yeshua speaks, and why is this significant? I have no idea, but if I was writing this dramatic scene, would I get Judas out of the way because what Yeshua is about to say might make him think twice about what he’s just popped out to do? Maybe.
This is a crucially dramatic point in John’s version of the story and has become a central part of Christian worship ever since.
First though, Yeshua, lays the ground by calling his close followers his little children and telling them that he won’t be around for ever. I don’t know about you, but whenever I have had to talk with my own children about the fact that I won’t be around for ever, their first response was always, “We don’t want to think about it, Dad.” Now that they are both in their 30s and one is married with children of her own, we can talk about such things as what we need to do in our will, and even advise them they really ought to make a will because they have to think about who’s going to look after the children if something awful happens.
I can imagine, then, how the disciples felt when Jesus says those heart-rending words, “Little children, I am with you only a little longer.”
While they are coping with the lumps in their throats, Jesus throws in his most important guideline on how to live in a world without him physically present in it: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
And we know this passage so well that it’s easy to forget a few things. That’s there are only two commandments that really matter. One is from Deuteronomy 6:5 (You shall love the lord, God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.) The other is from Leviticus 19:18: (love your neighbour as yourself).
But hang on, isn’t this new commandment just an echo of Leviticus 19:18? I wonder if the disciples would have been as dumb as I have been all these years. Now I realise what’s so new about this new commandment. What’s new is that Jesus is telling us to love one another, and maybe we tend to think that’s just another way of saying love our neighbours, and personally I think it should include our neighbours. But Jesus doesn’t just want me to love them as well as I love myself, he want me to love them the way he loved his disciples. That’s a much bigger ask. And he really does mean it, because John has him repeat those words again: John 15:12 and 17.
Jesus has just washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:5). I don’t think he wants us to go round washing people’s feet, do you? I think each one of us needs to work out for ourselves exactly how we think Jesus loved his disciples and his neighbours (other people). And then I think that’s how each one of us follows his new commandment.