First Reading – Acts 14:21-27

Responsorial Psalm – Ps 145:8-13

Second Reading – Rev 21:1-5a

Gospel Reading – Jn 13:31-33a, 34-35

In this Sunday’s Gospel reading from St. John, Jesus gives the Apostles a radical new command “Love one another; even as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34).

Not much earlier in his ministry, some Pharisees came to Jesus with the intention of testing him, and asked, “Teacher, what is the great commandment in the law?” (Mt 22:36). Jesus responded by giving what is normally referred to as the two great commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 22:37).

There is nothing particularly new in the commandments that Jesus recites. These are commandments that are found in the Old Testament. In fact, they are a summary of the entire law, the Ten Commandments in particular. The great and first commandment summarizes the first three of the Ten Commandments, and the second summarizes the last seven of the Ten Commandments.

In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (6:5). Then, in Leviticus, we read: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (19:18).

So, what is new about the command Jesus gives to the Apostles in this Sunday’s reading? The second command is no longer to love others as you love yourself, but to love others “even as I have loved you.” There is an extraordinary difference between these two commandments.

How has Jesus loved us? Earlier in John’s Gospel we read: “Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (13:1). Later, Jesus repeats this new command, and says more about what it means. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man that this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:12-13).

Of course this is exactly what Jesus will go on to do on Calvary. He loves us “to the end.” He loves through his agony in the Garden, his scourging, being crowned with thorns, walking the via dolorosa, and through his crucifixion. However, we must understand that he doesn’t just love with a general love for humanity. He loves each person individually. “Jesus knew and loved us each and all during his life, his agony, and his Passion and gave himself for each one of us” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 478). St. Paul realizes this very fact when he says, “The Son of God…loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).

St. John also writes in one of his letters: “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 Jn 4:7-11).

St. John’s words give us insight into how it is possible to love one another as Jesus loved us. On a natural level, it would seem that this is impossible. However, as Christians, we are “born of God” through the Sacrament of Baptism. And in Baptism, we become partakers of the divine nature, sharers in God’s own life. Jesus gives us his life so that we might live like he lived, die like he died, and love like he loved.

 Jesus also gives us the ability to love as he loved through the Sacrament of the Eucharist, which he instituted on the very same evening that he gave the Apostles this new commandment. Pope Benedict XVI tells us that Jesus gave this act of love, his death, “an enduring presence through his institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. He anticipated his death and resurrection by giving his disciples, in the bread and wine, his very self, his body and blood as the new manna” (Deus Caritas Est, 13).

The Catechism teaches: “The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice” (1367). We might also say that the sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single act of love by which the Blessed Trinity gives us the ability to love one another as Christ has loved us.