And yet, this all takes place in a context of deep love. Having loved them throughout his life, he now “loved them to the end”, John tells us. The background of this week’s powerful scene is that of love. It is a love that had been steadily growing, and now it reaches its climax. Jesus is preparing his friends for his departure: “I am with you only a little longer”, he tells them. He knows that his death is imminent. He also knows that this is going to be the moment of glory, the moment of Truth. “There is no love greater than this”, he had once said. Indeed, what was about to happen was the greatest act of love one could ever show. It was not a defeat. Love cannot be defeated, because Love is God.
The moment of departure is also the moment when Jesus leaves a beautiful inheritance to his disciples. It is not money, property or something tangible. It is a simple statement, a direct command: Love one another as I have loved you. This was to become the mark of the disciple. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, he tells them. Now, we know that the commandment of love was not new. The fact that loving God and neighbor were the two biggest commandments was part of the Jewish psyche for hundreds of years. What is new is that I, as a follower of Jesus, have to love others just as Jesus has loved me. Now it is not enough to love the other as myself. Maybe, let’s face it, it’s because sometimes we do not even know how to really love ourselves! So, the new measure is the love with which Jesus loved me: that which led him to give his life on the cross.
Jesus loved his disciples, not because they were perfect. Neither it is because they loved him in the same measure in return. It’s enough to look at Peter and his triple-denial. Yet Peter’s sin did not diminish in any way Jesus’ love for him. We also know that Jesus shared the meal with Judas too, in spite of the fact that he knew what he was about to do. He even washed his feet, with those of the rest of the twelve. This is precisely what Jesus is asking of us, as his followers in today’s world. To love without any condition, to keep loving even in the face of denial, treachery or deception. Jesus says that it is through this that people will know that I am his follower. It is not through the kinds of prayers I say, or the number of liturgies I celebrate. Those are important, as tools to help me live this command. Because I know that, without His help, I am totally incapable of loving the same way he loved me. My prayers, my celebrations, have to be translated into love in its most concrete and tangible form.