Two neighbors had a nasty falling out a number of years ago. One has reached out to the other over and over: greeting her whenever they pass one another on the street, calling out to her former friend when she would see her in her yard, attempting time after time to mend the breach. Each effort is rebuffed or ignored, and yet the persistent neighbor tries again and again. In many ways these efforts exemplify the kind of love about which Jesus speaks in today’s Gospel.
Jesus’ command to love one another is part of his explanation to the disciples of his washing their feet. He has modeled for them actions that bespeak love—a love that will even go so far as to surrender life itself for the other. It is a love that is extended even to those who will not reciprocate it. Jesus washed the feet of all the disciples—even Judas, who was about to hand him over to his opponents, and Peter, who was about to deny he ever knew Jesus.
Throughout the Gospel we see that Jesus never gives up on those who oppose him or who do not understand him. He continues to offer them opportunities right to the end. His love could even reach the Roman procurator, Pilate, with whom he engages in lengthy conversation, as he had done with Nicodemus, a Samaritan woman, a man born blind, Martha and Mary. In those instances, there was an openness that eventually resulted in faith. Even though Pilate would ultimately reject Jesus’ love, Jesus nonetheless offers it.
Jesus not only gives the disciples the gift of his love; he commands them to do as he has done. He has shown what love is by acting it out—pouring himself out in service, even to calamity’s depths. When we see see Jesus’ love in action, it becomes evident how love can be commanded.
In biblical parlance, love does not consist of warm, fuzzy feelings toward another but in visible acts toward others that bespeak common divine parentage and common commitment to one another. To love as Jesus loves, it is not necessary to like or even feel kindly toward the other person. But it is necessary to act toward the other in the way Jesus treated his disciples as he washed their feet. Sometimes loving feelings result from loving action extended and received.
The new creation of which the author of Revelation speaks is not something magical that appears out of the sky. Rather, it begins here and now with each act that aims at fulfilling Jesus’ command to love. The refusal to give up on anyone and the refusal to let another’s rejection extinguish the offer of love are acts that begin the construction of the new dwelling of God, wherein all tears are wiped away and all pain is salved. The old order of tit-for-tat dissolves, as all that is broken is made new.
This “new Jerusalem” is a place where all can find a home. At the Last Supper, Jesus does not envision a closed circle of mutually exchanged love, but one that keeps widening outward. Just as Paul and Barnabas energetically traversed Asia Minor, offering the good news even to Gentiles, so the commandment to love demands that we continue to open our circles, especially to those to whom we are least attracted.