Many times the last thing a person says before he or she is dying takes on a very special significance. It is as if the very essence of that individual is somehow summed up and compacted into a single message.
I imagine this is how the earliest disciples felt about the words that are in our reading of the day. They were all at table with Jesus, and the impending crisis that would take his life loomed ahead of them inescapably. And then came those final, poignant words, “A new commandment I give to you; love one another. As I have loved you, you are to love one another.” This will become your unique signature in the world, the way folks will sense your true identity, your essence. This will be your ultimate reason for being.
How do we love as Jesus loved? St. Augustine has given us two clues to such a question. He once observed that Jesus loved each one he had ever met as if there were none other in all the world to love. In other words, Jesus radically individualized the affection he acted out toward others. Instead of never seeing the trees for the forest, as the old adage goes, Jesus reversed that process and never failed to focus on the particular and the unique in each human being. This represents an extraordinary commitment and discipline, especially because, even in Jesus’ day, he came in contact with many, many people and, therefore, must have found it tempting to lump people together in categories, in classes, and to allow the forest mentality to blind him to the genuine uniqueness of each human being.
I’ve always loved the little story about the boy who’s trying to learn the Lord’s Prayer, and one night as he knelt by his bed, these words came out:
Our Father, who are in heaven
How do you know my name?
Such individualized affection will always remain a mystery to us mortals, and at the same time, let us never forget we’re made in the image of that extraordinary love. And doing what Jesus did in loving each one he ever met as if there were none other in all the world is at least an ideal toward which we can reach even if it always remains utterly beyond our complete grasp.
The second clue St. Augustine offers is that Jesus loved all as he loved each. The way he loved was not only individualized, but it was also incredibly universal.
We are able to love as Jesus did only because of the power and grace which come from our first being loved by God. By our own self-sacrificing love, we are the presence of the risen Christ for others. Christian living is to love as Jesus loved, to be the risen Christ for others.