It’s the evening of his execution. Jesus is celebrating the last supper with his own. He has just finished washing his disciples’ feet. Judas has already made his tragic decision, and after eating the last piece of bread from Jesus’ hands, he has left to do his business. Jesus says aloud what all are feeling: «My children, I shall be with you only a little longer».
He speaks with tenderness. He wants his last actions and words to be engraved on their hearts: «I give you a new commandment: love one another; you must love one another just as I have loved you. It is by your love for one another, that everyone will recognize you as my disciples». This is Jesus’ testament.
Jesus speaks of a «new commandment». What’s so new about it? The saying about loving one’s neighbor is already present in the biblical tradition. Also many Greek philosophers speak of philanthropy and of love for all human beings. Its novelty is in the form of love that is Jesus’ own: «Love one another as I have loved you». That’s how his style of loving will be spread through his followers.
The first thing that the disciples have experienced is that Jesus has loved them as friends: «I don’t call you servants…I have called you friends». In the Church we must care for each other simply as friends. And among friends you are careful about equality, closeness and mutual support. No one is above anyone else. No friend is lord of his friends.
That’s why Jesus cuts off ambition among his disciples at the root when he sees them discussing who is number one. The seeking of self-appointed advantages breaks friendship and communion. Jesus reminds them of his style: «I haven’t come to be served but to serve». Among friends no one has to impose self. All have to be ready to serve and collaborate.
This friendship that Jesus’ followers live out doesn’t lead to a closed community. Rather, the warm and friendly atmosphere that they have among themselves leads them to welcome whoever needs welcoming and friendship. Jesus has taught them to eat with sinners and with people who are excluded and rejected. He has scolded them for keeping the children away. In Jesus’ community the little ones aren’t blocked, but the great ones are.
One day Jesus called the Twelve, put a small child in their midst, embraced her and said: «If you welcome a small child like this in my name, you welcome me». In the Church that Jesus wanted, the littlest, the most fragile and vulnerable must be the focus of everyone’s attention and care.
José Antonio Pagola
Translator: Fr. Jay VonHandorf