One of the biggest mistakes a Christian can make is to misunderstand the moral law. For a Christian the Moral Law is not just a set of rules we have to follow, it is rather a description of the transformed Christian life. The Christian who begins to receive the ministry of Jesus Christ through grace will see his life transformed. He or she will begin to be more generous, more chaste, more honest and trustworthy. Such a person will begin to think differently, have better priorities, will see sins increasingly put to death. He or she will be more loving, more serene, more confident, more faithful to commitments. The transformed human person, by God’s grace will even begin to love his or her enemy. All of this is a gift, the work of Jesus Christ in the heart and mind of the believer, the fruit of His death and resurrection. It is not ultimately we who keep the law, but Christ who keeps it in us, if we but let him.
That brings us to today’s gospel: John 13:31-35.
The Gospel today contains a mandate that we should love one another. But there is a danger in thinking that Jesus is saying that we, with our own unaided flesh power are supposed to do this. This of course seems impossible and leads to frustration if we attempt to do it as our own achievement. As soon as we start trying to love people there is some set back. Perhaps they do something to anger us or cause hurt. Love, if it is human, will likely vanish and be replaced by anger or resentment. That is why it is important to get this gospel right. Jesus is not telling us to love (which may not last) but to allow him to love others in us. He will use our humanity to effect this love but it’s source will be him.
To understand this we need to consider the gospel in stages. There are three stages to this Gospel.
- First there is PREREQUISITE. Jesus indicates that the hour has come for him to be glorified. He is referring to his passion, death and resurrection. In this saving act Jesus acquires for us to power to live a wholly new life. In order for him to command us to love one another he must first equip us to do so. He does this on the cross and in his rising to new life. From the cross and resurrection comes a totally new life for us. As St. Paul puts it, we have been raised to new life with Christ (Col 3:1), and again, If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation (2 Cor 5:17) and yet again that since we have died with Christ in baptism we have also risen with him that we might live in newness of life (Rom 6:4).
- Next note the POWER– So it is clear that Christ’s death and resurrection empowers us to live the life he describes in the moral Law of the Sermon on the Mount and throughout the New Testament and in today’s Gospel. Notice how He gives us a new command but links it to what he has already done in us: Love another as I have loved you. In other words, I have loved you and placed my love in you, now you are able and must discover the power you have to love others. Jesus commands us only because he has first equipped us. It is not our love that must love others, even our enemies, it is His love already placed in us that he asks us to draw on. As St. John puts it, We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).
- Finally notice the PROOF. Jesus concludes by saying that we will know, that is we will experience, that we are his disciples when we love each other. It is almost as if he is saying, “Try me in this and begin to experience that you DO have this power because you are my follower and some one who has my grace.” So the question for us is ultimately, Do you believe that the Lord has equipped, empowered and enabled you to love others?
In the end we must remember that we are to live under grace, not the Law (Rom 6:14). This does not mean that there is no law. Rather it means the the Law describes the new life that Christ offers. The keeping of the commandments is not the cause of God’s love in us. Rather it is the result of it. It is but for us to finally grasp and expereince this love and thus be equipped to keep the commandments of the Lord and all they imply.
This video is the high water mark in the movie Fireproof. It is where Caleb finally “gets it.” He has been trying to love his alienated wife out of flesh power and, since she is not responding as well as his ego says she should, he is resentful. But in a moment of grace depicted here he finally experiences the complete and unmerited love of God for him and thus becomes equipped to start loving his wife this way. Would that our lives were as simple as this movie describes, but after this plot had to unfold in 90 minutes. For most of us, finally grasping the love of God for us takes more than one chance conversation in a park. But the central point remains, we have to experience the love of God for us to live more fully under grace. The more we grasp God’s love the more we can keep his law.