What if all you need is love?
Right before his trial, his crucifixion, and his death, Jesus, at an evening meal with his disciples, “showed them the full extent of his love,” by washing their feet. Knowing that he would soon be leaving this world and these disciples he loved, Jesus tells them, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:1; 34-35)
At this last supper, during this last conversation with all of his closest friends and followers, Jesus could have given them a more comprehensive farewell address with a detailed list of commands. People will know that you are my disciples if you hold the right beliefs. If you have the right answers. If you belong to the right group.
Instead, Jesus sums up the identity, the vocation, the witness of a disciple as love for others. With this new command, Jesus proclaims that his disciples will not be known by their creed, their doctrinal understanding, or their affiliations, but by their love for one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
Jesus issues just one command three times: Love one another. Love one another. Love one another.
If someone asked me what it means to be a disciple of Christ, I might be inclined to reference a theology of the cross and allude to a sacrificial path and throw in language about faith and vocation and discuss the state of the church and relationship between the gospel and society. But Jesus, in the finality of this interaction, with the significance of this conversation, doesn’t offer an inventory of all the attributes and actions of a disciple. He issues just one command three times: Love one another. Love one another. Love one another.
We seem to want the life of discipleship to be more complex, more involved, and we continue to layer on new responsibilities. Distinguish between right/wrong, orthodoxy/ threat to orthodoxy, sacred/secular. Invite and enlist new people to join our faith community. Serve on another committee. And we become so focused on what we think we need to do, the ministry and acts of discipleship that we’ve claimed for ourselves, that we begin to forget the one commandment Jesus gave us.
We begin to organize our lives around what we need to do, and lose our freedom to authentically engage with — to love — one another. To notice, to spend time with, to value someone without any agenda or objective, but because God loves us and commands us to love each other.
A friend of mine recently shared how much he appreciated a recent conversation with another mutual friend of ours who serves as a pastor within our community. He said, “She knows who I am and what I believe and that I won’t ever be involved in any kind of ministry, but she still asks me questions and wants to talk with me.
This exchange might inspire dialogue about how we have entered into a postmodern era and how we need to adapt our models of ministry to engage young adults while preserving the essentials of our faith. But this interaction, rather than constituting a new mode of ministry or a diluted discipleship, seems to bring us back to and fulfills Christ’s one final command: Love one another.
Our relationships with each other do not need to be concerned with whether, or to what extent, we agree, or how our values and views align, or if we spend time in the same place or with the same people. As disciples, we are commanded and called to just one purpose — to love one another with the love of God.
Karis Thompson recently concluded a year-long role as a community organizer with The Project F-M, a vision + venture to cultivate a 21st century faith community in the Fargo-Moorhead context, and now works with Intercultural Affairs at Concordia College, Moorhead, Minne-sota. She shares stories and questions of faith in this column every other month.