Dear Ascension Family,

The gospel reading for this Sunday is taken from the “last discourse” of Jesus. It is about his “last will and testament.” Some people prepare for death by writing their will, usually with the help of a lawyer. Most of the time, the will is about the disposition and distribution of the person’s wealth and properties to his heirs when he dies. A person who is at his deathbed may also leave his last advice to his loved one, orally if he is still capable.

Jesus is about to undergo his passion and death. He is having his last supper with his disciples, and in the course of their conversations, he gives them his last advice, “I give you a new commandment: love one another.” Jesus tells us that we are to love one another. Love is a word that has been overused or misused. The Greeks saw the problem, so they have three different words for love: one is for friendship; another is for erotic, sexual love; and the other is the love that desirers the welfare of the other and is willing to help make it happen. This third one is the love that Jesus is talking about. This kind of love may be accompanied by warm feelings, but not always. Sometimes it even goes against our feelings. It is the product not of emotion but of conviction and will. We are called to love not only the lovable but the unlovable as well, not only those who love us but also those who hate us.

A striking feature about Jesus’ command to love one another is its newness. “I give you a new commandment.” What exactly is new about it? Jesus certainly was not the first to tell us to love our neighbor. In fact Jesus had always quoted the rule laid down by God for Israel in the Book of Leviticus, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18). Now that is changed. Behind this new commandment stands Jesus himself. That is, the commandment is new because it sets a new standard – “as I have loved you”. Jesus’ love is the model and the measure of how we should love each other.

Why did Jesus have to tell them to love one another? In the more or less three years that he was with his disciples, Jesus knew each one of them. He knew each one’s frailties. Among them were people who were ambitious, who were easy to take offense, who were doubtful, and who were hardheaded. They were not really different from other people. He wanted them to care for each other and to form themselves into a loving community. If they had to continue the work of Jesus to spread the good news about God’s love, then they, too, should show this kind of love among themselves. In fact, Jesus made the point that love should be their identifying mark, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus wants people to recognize him in the way his disciples are behaving. The most striking way in which a disciple can give witness of his Master is by one’s love of others.

We can test our love for one another by looking at Jesus’ love for us. What is typical of the love of Jesus? The love of Jesus is first of all, a serving love. He says, “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many”(Mk 10:45). His love expresses itself in serving. Jesus sums up his whole life’s attitude in the common, humble service of the washing of the feet of his disciples. Through this gesture of foot-washing, Jesus tells us that he humbly places himself at the service of his brothers and sisters, which finds its highest point in the giving of his very self on the cross. Moreover, the love of Jesus is a forgiving love. Jesus has never taken vengeance on anyone. He has never hit back. He forgave the woman caught in adultery. He forgave Peter who denied him three times. “Father, forgive them,” was his prayer on the cross. This does not mean that we are to close our eyes to the evil that is right in front of us. No, we cannot, and we should not. Bu we can try to hate the sin and still love the sinner; hate what they do, but not hate them. Jesus broke the spiral of hitting and striking back, of getting even. He made it possible for everyone to make a new beginning. In him, there is always room for a new future.

The chain of love has to continue: not only from the Father to the Son and from Jesus to his disciples but also from every Christian to other people. That chain should not be broken. However, loving like Jesus will always remain an unfinished task. But that should not discourage us. Jesus reminds us that he loves us first. Because he loves us we are empowered to love others. When we can love others, we love not by our own efforts. Jesus makes our love possible. His love is at the same time our model and moving force.

Let us conclude with a prayer to the supreme Lover, Jesus Christ.

“Lord Jesus, you taught us how to love. We have a sincere desire to imitate you, but we know we do not have the strength for that. Have mercy on us. Kindly pour your own love into our hearts so that we may be able to obey your commandment gainfully and love our brothers and sisters as you yourself love us. Amen.”

Praying for you all,
Fr. Anacleto