“A new commandment I give you,” Jesus says to his disciples at his final meal in the gospel of John, “love one another. This is the way that people will know you are my disciples: demonstrate love for one another.”
“A new commandment I give you,” Jesus says, even though it’s not a new commandment, really.
The Ten Commandments are a list of actions that reveal how to align one’s life according to the opening exhortation: “Love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” The last half of the list is about treating your neighbor appropriately.
The book of Leviticus contains this commandment Jesus gives his disciples: “love your neighbor as yourself.”
And the Jewish prophets continually speak about “enacting justice, embracing mercy and living in humble service to God,” which is another way of saying, “love one another.”
So, it’s not a new commandment, and neither is it a teaching unique to Jesus. Pretty much every faith tradition includes some form of this exhortation to love and care for others.
“Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love,” says the Buddha.
“Be good to the neighbor who is your relative and to the neighbor who is not a relative,” says the Quran.
“Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it,” says Martin Luther King Jr.
“It is easy to hate and it is difficult to love, and all good things are difficult to achieve,” says Confucius.
“Compassion and love are not mere luxuries. As the source both of inner and external peace, they are fundamental to the continued survival of our species,” says the Dalai Lama.
“All goodness and godliness finds its genesis in this principle: do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” says Jesus.
These sacred texts and prophetic voices, as well as those from the Taoist, Hindu, Bahai and myriad faith traditions across the world, all contain a call to love one another in the form of exhortations to treat others as we would have them treat us.
“If I’m fluent in the speech of humanity and the speech of divinity,” Paul declares, “if I have all the wisdom and knowledge of all the ages, if I have the loveliest voice, if I have the most beautiful face, if I have the most irrefutable theological system, if I have all the right opinions and perspectives and presentations, if I have the whole Bible or other sacred text memorized, if I have the most articulate apologetics to ‘prove’ my religious perspectives, if I have, if I have, if I have, but if I don’t have love, if I don’t show love, then I have and I am and I will be nothing in the end.”
Whatever our religion or lack thereof, what we, as Christians, celebrate at this time every single year is the coming of love into the world. What we offer thanks for is the God who comes to us in the form of men and women, boys and girls, religious and unreligious, churched and the “unchurched,” Christian and Muslim, Buddist and Bahai, priest and philosopher, you and me with the revelation that the only path to hope, to peace, to joy, to life abundant and everlasting is found in the simple yet difficult exhortation to love each another.
It’s not a new commandment that they give us, and yet it is. It’s new because we are prone to forget the call to love our neighbor, our stranger, our world as ourselves.
In the end, all of these texts and traditions proclaim that loving our neighbor is the only way to love God, whatever name we may use to refer to the divine, because, in the words of Ghandi, “Where there is love, there is life. Where there is love, there is God.”
So may we renew our commitment to live as sons and daughters of God by reaffirming our love for one another. Whatever our religious tradition, may we look beyond our disagreements and doctrinal disparities to find common ground in the call to love because whatever our differences may be, our calling is the same: “Love one another. This is the way, the only way, that people will know that you are children of God.” AMEN.