The one command Jesus issues to his disciples alone stands at the conclusion of today’s reading. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,” he tells them, “if you have love for one another.” Following on the heels of Jesus’ washing his disciples’ feet, his command to love exhorts them toward sacrificial devotion to the well-being of others.
However, unlike other Bible passages, the injunction in John to love is limited to insiders. There is no command to love neighbor, and, at first glance, it may seem as though John has softened the commitment required to be a disciple. But it is not so.
Today’s reading is hollow. It contains the introduction and conclusion to yesterday’s episode (John 13:21-32). Unless we consider that story at the same time as today’s text, Jesus’ ethical imperative can appear to be little more than an exhortation toward service: Jesus washes his disciples feet, and we should do likewise. Humble service becomes the mark of love.
In its entirety, John 13 places the love command in the context of Jesus’ death and betrayal. It teaches us that discipleship is predicated upon our learning to love those among us who openly betray the ones we love or who remain woefully ignorant of their own contribution to evil, suffering, and death in this world.
It is relatively easy to love neighbors. It’s easy to say we “love our neighbors” when we don’t have to interact with them. But to love our friends and family with all their flaws and shortcomings requires us to recognize that we too are culpable. For we act in ways that require our friends to give of themselves selflessly. None is above reproach. Lord, have mercy on us.
Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison.