Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
With tender, startling words, Jesus calls His disciples, “little children”. With these gracious words Jesus draws them close into the same Father-Child relationship with God that has been His from eternity. No longer will God be to them a threatening deity dwelling far off in the heavens, but will be to them the Father He has always been to Jesus: Abba Father!
Earlier in His ministry Jesus had invited followers to join with Him in addressing God as “our Father”. Now as He goes to the cross He calls them to share in the very life, the very love of Father God. With God as their Father, they will bear the family likeness, the likeness of Father God. As the Father has loved Jesus, so Jesus loves them (John 15:9), and they will pass that love on to others.
We use many expressions that speak of family likeness and resemblance. We say that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”, or “he’s a chip off the old block”. We tend to expect “like father like son”. So as Jesus came bearing the very image of the Father, we are to bear the image and likeness of the Father. We are to love as we have been so lavishly loved by God.
In a sense Jesus’ command to love is not a “new commandment”. The Old Testament, as well as other ancient writings, contain commandments to love others (Leviticus 19:18). The newness of Jesus’ command is in the quality or character of that love: we are to love as Jesus loves. “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another”. But let’s be honest! We do not have it within us to love as Jesus loves; to forgive those who wrong us, or to keep on giving when we feel we have nothing left to give. That’s why we must daily do as Jesus did. We too must go to the Father, the fountain of love, and receive from His boundless love.
Martin Luther asked: “Can a rock that has been in the sunlight all day not fail to give off warmth and heat at night?” Can a person who has lived in the sunlight of God’s love not give off His warmth and love? We need to live in the light of God’s love for us, to bask in His unconditional delight in his children. We need to let God love us. As we spend time with the Father we will increasingly bear His image in our world. We will experience the “fruit of the Spirit”, which is His love, joy, and peace (Galatians 5:22).
What are there in Jesus’ words today to know; to feel; to do?