Happy First Day of Spring!
12 ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants* any longer, because the servant* does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
Jesus and the disciples are still in the vineyard; it is still the evening of the Last Supper. Jesus has already said once that his command is that they love one another. Now he repeats, “This is my commandment, that you love one another”. We call the Thursday evening of Holy Week (the days before Easter) Maundy Thursday. Maundy means a command – it is the day the Lord gave the disciples this new command. Now he adds to it – “as I have loved you.” That is a very large order, to love as the Lord loves. He puts it to them bluntly in his next sentence, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jesus’ death is the ultimate gift for his friends. He will die for them, and for us – will they love one another enough to die for one another? Will we?
It is not an easy thing to love as the Master loves – but that is his command on our lives. The author of the gospel is making the point to his community, that their first command is to love one another. That is a central idea in this gospel, along with the certain and clear identity of Jesus as the Son of God. We also must see that the command to love stands above all other commands. Jesus breaks the laws of Sabbath out of love for a broken or crippled person, because the law of love is greater.
We can see here that Jesus is never the “victim” in these events. Although he will die at the hands of the Romans, urged on by the Chief Priests and Pharisees, he chooses to give his life. He does so as a gift for his friends, and for all those who will follow. Jesus tells them that they are no longer his servants (duolos is the Greek word, and the actual meaning is “slave”), but are his friends. Remember the words of the hymn, “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear.”
Jesus called them to be his disciples, his friends. He calls you and he calls me, and each one of us, in his grace, to be his friends. And he appointed them, and all of us who have followed them, to go and bear fruit for the Kingdom.
And finally, he repeats, “I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”