The new commandment, “love one another,” is not so new (see Lev 19:18). What makes it new is not the words, but the way they are written.
When Moses received the law on Mount Sinai, it was written by the finger of God on two ineffaceable panels (Ex 31:18). The law was literally “set in stone.” But the new commandment is set in flesh.
The new commandment of the Christ is written on Calvary, not Sinai. Instead of two stone tablets, the new commandment employs two wooden beams. Rather then “ten words” (Ex 34:28), the new law is written with one Word. Rather than write with his finger, Jesus writes with his body. In place of ineffaceable stone, the new covenant is chiseled into his hands, inscribed upon his feet; it is sealed with his open side. The new law has elegance and force unattainable by words; it is composed with wounds.
The new commandment is not new because it commands love. It is new because of the kind of love it commands: “as I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” The love itself is new. It could not be commanded before, because it was not known before. It was revealed in the writing.
The letters, grammar and syntax of the new commandment are the burdens, blows and bruises of Christ’s body. Written in the passion of the Son of God, the new commandment is new because it reveals love for the first time: “the way we came to know love was that he laid down his life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (1Jn 3:16). The way we came to know love, his passion, was the way we came to know the love commanded us.
Love is the simple identity of God (1Jn 4:8). Love is at the center of the interior life of God. Those depths were once inaccessible to us. But, in Christ, they have been made visible. They have been exteriorized in his wounds. Now, what the Father sees and loves in the Son, we can see and love too. “God is love,” and that love has been displayed on the beams of the Cross. By obeying the command to love, we are brought into the inner life of God (Jn 14:21).
Laws establish community. The new commandment of Christ brings us into the eternal triune community: “whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him” (Jn 14:23). Love is the first law, for it is the law of the first community: God himself.
Father George K. Nixon serves as assistant pastor at St. Philip Parish, Greenville. Ordained in 2011, he holds a licentiate in sacred theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. “Verbum Domini” is a series of Father Nixon’s reflections on the Scriptures.