Dangerous Sunday Morning Devotions: Loving one another, a remedy for status and celebrity superiority
We know that Jesus left his disciplesus with a “new commandment,” which we read and hear in John 13:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
We are familiar with this “new command,” yet at more so the sentimental level. We, however, need allow the context of the story surrounding this command to “love one another to fill the content of this love--the purpose of this love. There are plenteous commands regarding love and loving one's neighbor; so, why is this one particularly a "new" command?
When Jesus was bidding his disciples farewell, for his time, that is his demise, was approaching—the time when the King of kings would be betrayed by a close friend; the time when the promised Messiah would face a rigged and illegal trail by those threatened by his very presence; the time when the Messiah-Rabbi-Discipler would be abandoned by the very ones he had trained; and, the time when the Prince of life would be hung on a Roman cross as a traitor and criminal--he gave some final instructions. Have you noticed that this new command to love one another is given within the context of betrayal.
Reading through Acts, the Luke's inspired volume of the early days of the apostles, we don’t see a whole lot of foot-washing and, as well, no such instruction is addressed in the Epistles to the churches. So what are we to make of following Jesus’ example? Why, then, is Jesus' final instructions important to the early church and for us now? The example seems instructive for a community with now leverage and no platform for its message. Perhaps the instruction is an ironic means of survival and endurance--a preventative measure and an embedded community habit against alignment with those who would be betrayers of Messiah and the brethren, inside and out.
The following episode, the conversation between Jesus and Peter, is the first “test case.” Typically the focus is on Peter’s misplaced sense of humility, that is, his desire to prohibit Jesus from washing his feet. This foil links Peter to the betrayal framing (noted above), for we read, after Peter’s “wash all of me” over-reach (v. 9), Jesus immediately refocuses on Judas’ betrayal (vv. 10-11). The ensuing exchange between Jesus and Peter solidifies this “betrayal” direction (cf. v. 11). The table fellowship around the final meal where Jesus is the host puts Judas in the place of honor, sitting to Jesus’ side (i.e., his immediate left or right depending on the side of the table Jesus actually sat on and as Jewish tradition informs us). We are, then, in a sense (at least figuratively) sitting in that place of honor (because that's where we seek to be, is it not?). We seek to sit in the place of honor, only to be reseated elsewhere after the host arrives and the meal has begun; the place where Peter and John’s mother wanted them seated next to Jesus, but alas it was reserved for someone else: Judas, the betrayer.
Then, after Jesus reveals the betrayer to John and Peter (vv. 21-29) and prior to the “new command,” we hear Jesus explain:
“Therefore when he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him; if God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and will glorify Him immediately. Little children, I am with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’” (vv. 31-33).
Then, Jesus immediately launches into what fulfills the example of the foot washing:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (vv. 34-35).
Pause long here enough to note, Peter does not hear the “new commandment.” What did the brazen, self-righteous future pillar of the church hear? The glory. Jesus mentions “glory” fives times in the space of two verses (vv. 31-32). Peter and the apostles focused on the grand movement of glory associated with Jesus, the promised Messiah and King. And, what? We can’t go with you? This is exactly what Peter hears and responds to:
“Simon Peter said to Him, “‘Lord, where are You going?’” (v. 36).
Peter does not hear, “Love one another.” He hears “glory.” He wants the “glory.” Judas’ place of honor at the table as it were. Jesus reveals that, even, Peter can be aligned with the betrayer. For, in fact this is exactly what Jesus implies when he challenged Peter's rash, bravado.
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.