The novelty of the ‘new’ commandment

The gospel today is about the so-called new commandment. When Judas Iscariot had left the company of the apostles in order to carry out his work of betrayal, Jesus gave this commandment to the remaining eleven.

“A new commandment I give you, that you love one another: that as I have loved you, you should also love one another.” Jesus added, “By this with all men know that you are my disciples” (John 13:34-35).

The Christian will not be identified by any other quality—not by his intelligence, nor his humility, not his chastity. He will be recognized by his fraternal charity.

Jesus called this the “new” commandment. And we can ask, “What is so new about this commandment?” Was it not already in the Old Testament that we should love our neighbor as ourselves?

It seems that the novelty in this commandment lies in the kind of love by which we have to love one another. Jesus Christ sets the standard, making His own love the model: “as I have loved you.”

How did Christ love His disciples? He loved them with the divine love. What is the difference between the love of God for us and the way that we ordinarily love one another?

Usually, we get to love a person because of the good qualities that we see in that person. At that most superficial level, we judge the appearances of a person, and we may be attracted to a person’s beauty.

Going a bit deeper, we can appreciate the qualities of someone’s personality, especially the virtues that a person possesses. So we can say that human love looks for the goodness in its object and is then attracted to it. This is not the way that Jesus loved us.

With respect to His disciples, Jesus was not moved to love them because of their inherent qualities. In fact, besides their sincerity and simplicity, they did not have too many qualities to boast of. Peter was impulsive, James and John were ambitious, Thomas was hard-headed. And these were the most outstanding of them.

The love of Jesus did not seek goodness—Jesus imparted it to them. Jesus was altruistic, He did not seek His own benefit in any way. When he gave His life up to redeem mankind, He Himself had nothing to gain by it.

Saint John described this very well, saying: “In this love, not that we have loved God, but that He has first loved us.”

Then he continues, applying the lesson of the new commandment, “If God has so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:10-11).

We can conclude that the novelty of the new commandment lies in this–our love for one another should have the love of God as the standard and the motivation.

We should love everyone, without exception, because they are all children of the same Father. And when we find it hard to love someone because of the lack of good qualities or because that person may have done us some harm, we should think of the example of Christ who forgave the very people who were responsible for nailing Him to the cross.


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