The Gospel lection coming up for this Sunday comes from John 13 where Jesus engages in an enacted parable, washing his disciples’ feet and then dishing out a new commandment on us. Here’s a little reflection on it…
The most high Lord reveals himself to us as the most low.
The night we betray him to a godforsaken death, this son of a carpenter takes off his outer robe. He stoops down on his knees. The fingers that crafted the universe bear callouses. No longer content to paint the cosmos, they wash our feet painted with dirty and stink and sweat.
When Jesus stands up, a bowl of brown water beside him, he says he’s just given us an example.
Jesus tells us in Matthew’s Gospel that the two greatest commandments in the Law are to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
The problem though— the Bible also says that Christ is the end of the Law and its commands, including that bit about loving God and neighbor like we love us.
It’s not that love isn’t important in the New Testament. The apostle Paul tells the Romans that all of the ten commandments are summed up by loving others while St. Peter writes in his own letter that loving others covers a multitude of our sins.
But if Christ is the end of the Law, then is the love commended by Peter and prescribed by Paul the love commanded by the Law? Is it the same love like we love ourselves love?
Notice what Jesus says in John 13, notice exactly how he puts it: “A new command I give you (this is something different). Love one another as I have loved you.”
NOT as you love yourself.
Love one another as I have loved you.
Christ is the end of the commandments, even the greatest commandment.
Christ is the end of a love that need not go further than self-love as the standard.
The old commandments are over and done. Christ has given us a new command, and it’s no wonder Peter didn’t want God washing his feet. The way he has loved us is nothing like the way we love even ourselves. Jesus broke bread with those he knew would betray him with a kiss. Three times he forgave Peter who cheated him on thrice.
Christ gave his life not for the good but for the ungodly.
The golden rule and all the rest are bygones from a covenant Christ has closed with his cross.
The good news is that Jesus isn’t a liar. He really does give us a burden that is lighter of obligations. The bad news is that the only obligation attached to Jesus’ yoke is what Christians call grace, which is a lot less amazing when you’ve got to give it.
Because, by definition, everyone to whom you give it is undeserving.
Love like this, Jesus says.
The apostle Paul summarizes that sort of love by saying that in Christ God was in the world not counting our trespasses against us. The new command isn’t to remember to love another as we love ourselves; the command of Christ is to love with a love that remembers to forget the sins sinned against us.
The Christian life would be hard enough if the love we talk about when we talk about love was the love of the Law, love with self-love as the standard. Unfortunately, it’s even harder. It’s a love that leaves the ledger book behind— and those ledgers would have plenty of ink spilt in them if we could hold on to them.
Forgive but don’t forget goes the cliche, but for Christians there’s no distinction between the two, for forgiveness just is forgetting— forgetting to count the slights and sins suffered by way of the other.
This is the new law of love Jesus commands.
This is the love into which we’ve been drowned by baptism.
Therefore, there is no other clearer way of imitating the love revealed to us in Jesus Christ than in the divine amnesia you practice, however imperfectly, on others everyday.
This new command of Christ— a love that forgets how to count— henceforth it makes your day-to-day relationships more of a ministry than any soup kitchen or service project.