What’s so new about the New Commandment? In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus says to his Apostles, “I give you a new commandment: love one another.” The Apostles, being Jewish, knew what we call the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures); they knew the Jewish Law. The Old Testament teaches that we should love God and our neighbor. In the Book of Deuteronomy we read, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, with your whole being, and with your whole strength” (6:5). And the Book of Leviticus teaches us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (19:18). Loving one another, therefore, was not necessarily a new concept to the Jewish people.
So, what’s new about this New Commandment? There’s a very important addition to this commandment that Christ gives to his Apostles. Not only does he say “Love one another;” he goes on to say, “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” Jesus Christ himself gives newness to this new commandment. He both gives the new commandment and lives the new commandment. And he invites his Apostles and us to do the same.
Love is a very misunderstood reality and a very overused word. It is so often equated with emotions. But Christ reveals to us what love really is: love is the willingness to lay down your life for another. Love is the willingness to suffer for another. It’s important for us to remember that Jesus gave this new commandment to his Apostles before his suffering and death. The Apostles would not have clearly understood what Jesus meant about this new commandment until after his suffering and death because it was then that he revealed the depth of his love; it was then that this new commandment took on its fullest meaning. The best way for us to understand the new commandment is to look at the crucifix.
We live in a very self-centered culture: it’s about my needs and my desires. And when we are formed in this attitude of “me,” then it is nearly impossible to enter into a loving relationship. How can spouses, for example, give themselves to one another if all they think about is their own needs? How can priests or religious brothers and sisters give themselves to their people if all they think about is their needs? Experience teaches us that we find more joy when we forget about ourselves and give without counting the cost.
Love is sacrificial. Love hurts. Love is willing to suffer, to die. But in the sacrifice of love is borne the greatest joy. It is joyful to forget about ourselves and to live for others. This is our calling. This is Christ’s new commandment.
Father Michael Najim is Spiritual Director of Our Lady of Providence Seminary, Providence, as well as Catholic Chaplain at LaSalle Academy, Providence.