John 13:31-35; Acts 11:1-18; Rev. 21:1-16
What I just read from the Gospel of John occurred the night before Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion. During this moment, he was trying to make clear to his disciples that his earthly life was coming to an end. Judas just left to put the wheels of betrayal in motion. Jesus knew the moment of leaving them was close and after three and a half years with them, he expected they had understood his message of love; after three and a half years he fully expected them to continue living and loving the way he had taught them to live and love. He expected them to continue doing what he began. In fact, he did not just expect it, he commanded them to do it. Jesus knew that after his death, his followers would have to face two options: Option number one: to give up on the Gospel and conform to this world, and option number two, to continue preaching, teaching, and living God’s Kingdom.
Jesus knew the latest option was not going to be easy because the message of God’s Kingdom was and still is a challenge to ours and this world status quo; Jesus’ message calls for radical changes. Changes like gentiles entering God’s people, and this brings discomfort to those who want to remain in control. To continue with what he began, his disciples needed to be equipped and prepared. The new commandment of love was the tool Jesus expected them to use to continue trying to transform the world. Jesus expected them to love one another, and to live out that love God had shown through his son Jesus of Nazareth.
Today, the fifth Sunday of Easter still within the context of resurrection, the Liturgical Calendar includes the new commandment Jesus left his disciples and the relate from the Book of Acts, where the Holy Spirit is given to gentiles. We can see in the story from Acts that “the circumcised believers”-which are the traditional Jews- were angry at Peter because he broke the old tradition of not associating with the Gentiles and Peter had to defend his actions explaining how God had directed him to do it. For those “circumcised believers” Peter’s explanation was hard because made them realized that many times God’s desires have little or nothing to do with our traditions or our interpretations of the Bible. Out of respect for their beloved tradition, they were rejecting gentiles and keeping them out of his people and his kingdom while God was opening the doors and accepting them as his children with the right of having the Holy Spirit. They were preserving their traditions out of respect for their ancestry and to firmly establish what they believed was their identity, while God was showing them that he can clean any vessel he chooses to work with, even gentiles.
The resurrection message the apostles preached -and we can see it in the Book of Acts- is the breaking down of human barriers; barriers that separate us all. For God everyone is the same and have the same rights. “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ So, if God gave them the same gift, he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?” Peter told those who questioned him. “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life” was their answer to what Peter told them.
In the Book of Acts, we can see the struggle between “the circumcised” and Paul. The “circumcised believers” were willing to accept the gentiles with some conditions. They were willing to accept they were saved but hold back certain privileges in the kingdom to those they did not consider worthy to receive them. This text is an example of the Scripture confronting Jews with their religious bigotry. The religious leaders in Jesus’ time were resisting the change God was working on; God was moving to change their identity, to make them look different, with what God was doing his people was not going to look the same in comparison to previous generations; God wanted his new people to look more like him.” The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a reminder that when we work to preserve our identity and history, we could be working against what God is doing in our lives.
The night before going to Calvary, Jesus told his disciples, “Love one another.” These three simple and brief words are the Eleventh Commandment. And just as simple and brief are Jesus’ instructions on how to carry it out this commandment. Jesus said: “As I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34). In other words, what Jesus told his disciples was, “Just do to others, as I did to you.” Accept others, as I have accepted you.
Sometimes I believe we Christians have failed to understand how important this new commandment is. We have to remember this is a commandment not an option. This commandment should be our signature, our business card, as well as it was in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus told his disciples, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Not only in John, but Matthew, Mark, and Luke as well, make it perfectly clear that Jesus fully expected his disciples not to give up, not to surrender, but to continue the mission of spreading the good news of Jesus’ love and acceptance to all, and that they continue living out the love he had taught them for as long as they lived on earth. “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” Even when the Book of Acts does not say it, I believe the same way Peter remembered what Jesus said about the baptism, he also remembered the Eleventh Commandment and that is why he entered the house of Cornelius the gentile.
Sadly, because we have forgotten how important the eleventh commandment is, if we check the history of Christianity, we will see that sidetracked, has become a recurring pattern for the Christian Church throughout our history. Many times, Christians have fought other Christians. Christians have killed, starved, hunted, tortured, burned, mutilated, and rejected other Christians.
As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” Paul in a very clear way describes how God loves us and that is how he expects us to love one another too. 1 Corinthians 13:1-8, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails.”
You and I, who follow Jesus, must allow God to make us instruments of his love and grace. We are to love as Jesus loves us. Remember God is love, when we love, God is in our midst and when God is present all things are made new. When God is present a whole world of possibilities emerges. We, the 21st century disciples have a mission, a holy mission, glorify God with our actions, as Jesus glorified the Father.
God’s love is what this world needs. You and I have to fulfil the commandment we received if we want to see changes; Jesus gave us his last commandment of love as a tool to transform hearts of stone into hearts of flesh, beginning with ours. Only God’s love can cover a multitude of sins.
I invite you to think in what people in the community think of our church as a family of God. Do they see us, as a congregation and as individuals, living out the Eleventh Commandment?
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.”