The liturgy of today presents to us a new commandment in a new community in eschatological anticipation of the new heaven and new earth. It gives us a paradigm shift from the apparitions of Jesus (to his disciples) after his resurrection to his ascension, which will soon come and so, we have the beginning of the farewell discourse in today’s gospel. Before his ascension, Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment to love one another. What is new in this commandment? The gospel takes our minds back to the night of Holy Thursday, when Christ said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another…” (v.34). “New commandment” in the Latin Vulgate is mandatum novum, from which we get the phrase Maundy Thursday. The new commandment is not entirely new. Lev. 19:18 says, “You shall not take vengeance nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself, says the Lord.”
This commandment required Israelites to love only Israelites, but Lev.19:34 expanded its scope: “The stranger who lives as a foreigner with you, shall be to you as the native-born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you lived as foreigners in the land of Egypt, says the Lord.” What then is new about this commandment? Jesus provides a clear model of the love that he requires: “Love one anotheras I have loved you” (v.34). He became the yardstick for measuring love. He became a model of love when he expressed it as service and sacrifice, by washing the feet of his disciples in John 13:1-20, which set the tone of humble service that his disciples are to render to oneanother. His love is not selective, that is why he calls us to love our enemies, having in mind the Jews and Gentiles (Mt. 5:44).
Lastly, He said, “By this, all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (v.35). In sincerity of heart, do we truly love ourselves? Does love exist among us? If it does, why is there so much fight among us? Why are thereso much conflicts in our homes, communities and even in Church? Why the decline in our participation and service to the Church of God? Do we truly love if we still have an increasednumber of broken families, separation and divorce among couples? We claim to love God but cannot forgive? If that is the case, then what distinguishes us as Christians?It was in Antioch the pagans saw the love that existed among the disciples and said, “These are Christians” (Acts 11:26).It is difficult not to respond to the witness of a loving person; love gave rapid growth to the early Christians and through love, pagan territories were conquered.
Ignoring this new commandment is not an option because God is love. St. Paul says, “If I do all the good works and do not love, I gain nothing” (1Cor. 13:1-3). In view of making all things new in light of the new commandment, the first reading presents the conclusion of the first missionary journey of St. Paul and his companion Barnabas to Antioch. Through Paul and Barnabas, Christ made things new in the lives of the Gentiles. In the course of their missionary journey, they established Christian communities in pagan territories. When they decided to head back home to Antioch, they passed through the cities they had visited before, to strengthen and encourage the Christians in the cities. Many Christians need to be strengthened spiritually. Many need words of exhortation to continue in the faith.
To become a Christian is one thing, to remain in it day after day, year after year and trial after trial, is another. It takes grace, courage and encouragement to continue in the faith. It was the encouragement and exhortations on trials and tribulations that strengthened the newly converted Christians from paganism. The new way of life given to them needed to be fanned into flame. The acceptance of the new way of life by the pagans was beyond the comprehension of the Jews because they were considered a chosen people and others cannot be part of the chosen. Recalling the first reading of last week, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you.
Since you thrust it from you and judge yourself unworthy of eternal life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46). In the conversion story of St. Paul, the Lord said to Ananias: “Go, because this man is an instrument I have chosen to proclaim my name to the Gentiles, to kings and to the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15). Through Paul and Barnabas, a new way of life was introduced to pagans and when they arrived Antioch, they gave testimonies of what God had done through them and how He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. The dwelling presence of God became a new thing in the pagan territories. John in the second reading puts it pretty well in an eschatological tone as the new heaven and the new earth for the old has passed away.
As Paul and Barnabas made God dwell in the pagan territories, John affirms “God will dwell in the midst of his people (among the Gentiles). They shall be His people and He will be their God; He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more… Behold, I make all things new” (vv. 3-5). Dearest friends, as we contemplate the new things God is doing in our midst, we are urged to evaluate ourselves with the yardstick of measuring love, which is Christ. Are we meeting the expectation by putting love in action? Or do pagans remain outside the church because we claim to be Christians? Do people find it difficult to join a group or society because they noticed we are there? Let our actions prove Mahatma Gandhi wrong in his saying, “I love your Christ but hate your Christianity.” Let us not be different from Christ.
• Rev. Fr. Ken Dogbo, OSJ is a priest of the Oblates of St. Joseph