“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (St Jn 13:34).
Quite intentionally I want to breathe upon you today an unpopular truth. Today is no day for those who want to be popular. Quite the opposite. Today is a day of betrayal and reversal for the Lord and his followers, a day when a kiss signifies a betrayal and when a King becomes a slave to give slaves their freedom.
And in the midst of all that is going on, he gives us a new commandment, that we love one another as he has loved us. He has washed our feet, and he is about to be nailed to the tree to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. And he tells us to love one another as he has.
How do we do this?
First, we have to uproot and throw into the fire the popular notion of love, that love happens to us when we least expect it and that we fall into love as if it were a case of slipping or tripping. Our predecessors, the pagans, had their own way of expressing this passive understanding of love. They invented and believed in a god who took the form of a cherubic baby boy and who was armed with a bow and arrows. We fall into love, according to this popular notion of love, passively and unintentionally when that little fellow, named Cupid, takes aim and shoots one of his arrows at us. It just happens to us. We have very little to do with it.
When we’ve uprooted and thrown that notion into the fire, with what do we replace it? We replace it with a figure who bends down for each of us and washes our feet on his determined way to a hill where quite intentionally and willfully he dies to set us free. That figure, of course, is the Lord Jesus, who sets glory and popularity aside to love us with a determination, a conviction, and a willful purpose that no power can or will redirect.
And he commands us to do the same for each other. If we take that figure, bending down and climbing a hill, at his word and follow what he says, we discover something very unpopular. And that is this: it is perfectly possible that we can determine that we shall love people we don’t even like. Love, to be like his love, intentionally poured out for us, is the result of deciding that we shall do it. How else can we love our enemies? How else can we love and forgive those who have harmed us? How else can we love those whose way of life seems strange and unconventional? But that is what he commands. He commands us to do something, to exercise our wills actively, to get something done determinedly. He commands us to love each other. It becomes a matter for us to choose, or not to choose, to do. And in that choice, fulfilling his commandment to love, is a posture, an approach to life, just like his bending down and climbing a hill. We do it having first determined and decided actively to do it. We do it in remembrance of him.