Jesus calls his disciples to love one another as he has loved them. Sounds easy, right? But knowing that the disciples did not always get along and that Judas’s walking out to betray Jesus immediately precedes this text, we need to rethink what is involved in this call to love.
In Greek the word used for love in this text is agapeo. As a verb it signifies action, specifically self-giving action—the kind where a person gives his or her life. We find it tough enough to love our enemies, which Jesus has already commanded; but giving our life is almost incomprehensible. Jesus did it, and we have had examples throughout history where people have followed his example, often becoming saints. In Latin America, Archbishop Oscar Romero from El Salvador is an often-cited example. A man who did not agree with Romero’s support of the poor and oppressed assassinated him in 1980 as he performed mass. I have come to discover that this incredible type of love is not exclusive to Christians.
Agapeo as it refers to God’s self-giving love means to be in relationship with God. Jesus’ new commandment to love one another emphasizes the life-giving aspect of mutual love and support within the circle of the disciples. Earlier Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. Peter was slow on the uptake at that point, but he will catch on, realizing that here and elsewhere Jesus is making an ethical demand.
History is filled with examples of hatred, hurt, and betrayal. This text asks us to lay all that aside and practice agapeo love. Can we respond to this challenge? Eventually, Peter did. How about you?

God of love, strengthen us to live love as you have taught us. Amen.

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