It was so important and so innovative that they named a whole religious holiday about it. And yet it’s so obvious and such common sense.
Or maybe not. Maybe that’s the problem.
Maybe it should be common sense but our own stuff gets in the way and we miss it. Maybe that’s what happened?
We call it Maundy Thursday after the Latin word mandatum from which we get our word mandate, which is another word for command or commandment. In other words we call it Commandment Thursday. But it isn’t one of the famous 10 that Moses got on the mountaintop. And it isn’t what Jesus called the greatest commandment – which is to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength – or even its partner command to love others as we love ourselves.
No, this is a whole new commandment – a commandment to love one another.
Love one another. We say it so often in church – but have you ever stopped to really think about it? Love one another.
If there were only two of us we could say love each other, and we’d be on the right track. ‘Another’ means to add something, someone, of a similar sort. Not an ‘other’ as in something or someone different – that one already has a commandment – love others – love the stranger, love the person you encounter, love your enemy even.
But this new commandment is clearly aiming us at people like us.
Like us how? Followers of Jesus’ Way, of course. Fellow disciples.
And that should be common sense, shouldn’t it? – to love people like yourself, to love your fellow journeyers. And maybe it is, I don’t know. But then, why did Jesus make it a commandment?
And he made quite a production out of delivering it too! He took the role of a servant and washed all of his disciples’ feet – even Peter who protested at first. And after he did that act of humble service he told them that he was giving them a new commandment – to love one another as he, Jesus, had loved them.
The dictionary says that the idea of ‘one another’ means that what’s going on is reciprocal – that it’s something given or felt by each toward the other.
There’s an equality about it. It’s egalitarian.
It means to be mutual – to embody mutuality. Me and you, and you and her, and her and them, and him and me, and us together. Mutuality.
But it’s mutuality without a sense of owing anyone anything. It’s mutuality for the sake of love – selfless giving for the betterment of the others – and their giving, or loving, back to you.
It’s not give and take – it’s give and give!
In Jesus’ version of mutuality there’s no one-upping, no score-keeping, no ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’, no ‘they did that for me so I guess I have to return the favour’.
Jesus didn’t command us to transact business with one another he said to love one another.
Maybe that’s why he felt like he had to call it a commandment – because if he didn’t our own stuff would probably get in the way and we’d turn it into a contest.
But love’s no contest – it’s just giving for the joy of giving – helping for the satisfaction of helping – supporting for the benefit of stronger one-anothers.
And knowing that when it’s your time the giving, helping, and supporting will flow – not because you’ve earned it but because we’re part of one another and we love one another.
We love one another for our mutual benefit and for the strengthening of the body of Christ.
That’s why we can’t be solo Christians.
We need one another – like Jesus needed his disciples.
And in the end, that’s what undid them all, and especially Jesus.
They didn’t all love him like he loved them.
Some were plotting rebellion and were awaiting their chance.
Some wanted to be the right hand men.
And one sold them all out for a few bucks.
That’s not mutuality, that’s selfishness.
That’s not building one another up, that’s tearing everyone down.
That’s not giving for the sake of giving, that’s taking for your own sake.
Jesus never did that.
But the disciples did.
His followers did.
His friends did.
I do – too often.
And on this night, all those years ago, Judas did.
And what happens when commandments to love are ignored?
The opposite of love happens.
The opposite of mutuality happens.
The opposite of a basin and a towel happens.
Our own stuff gets in the way and something like a cross happens.
“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.”