St. Augustine of Hippo


Episcopal Church

 


The New Commandment

by

The Rev. Dr. Nathanael Saint-Pierre


(John 13:31-35)


May 15, 2022


I have studied, but I need your strength. I have prepared, but I need your power.

I am willing, and I want to, but only you can make me able.

Silently now, we wait for you, ready, O Lord, your will to see.

Open our eyes and illumine us, Spirit divine! Amen.


Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, what does the word “new” trigger in you when you hear it? What does it mean to you when you use it? For many, every time we hear the word “new”, it triggers our fear, extreme anxiety, and mistrust. We are so inclined to think materially that when we say “new”, we think about something replacing the old. We don’t want to change… We prefer the status quo…


But today, it is Jesus saying: “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.”


How did the disciples understand Jesus giving them a new commandment? What did giving a new commandment mean for Jesus? How do we understand Jesus giving us a new commandment? Should we throw the books of Exodus and Leviticus in the garbage? Does that mean that the old commandments are no longer valid?


The Torah and the Talmud were very central to the life of Israel from the time of Moses through Jesus’ era. Jesus saw how difficult it was for people to abide by this body of Jewish civil, ceremonial law, and legend comprising the Mishnah and the Gemara.  From the way God was defined as demanding sacrifices through the code of conduct that was demanded, Jesus had to redefine God and the way we enter into a relationship with God. He needed to provide a different way, a new commandment by which his disciples/followers would be recognized.


We, modern disciples of Jesus, have continually fallen far short in our love for one another as well as in our love for those outside the community of faith. Theological and ethical arguments often descend into personal attacks and name-calling; personal interests often trump the common good of the community; those in need of compassion find judgment instead. Despite Christ’s sacrifice, we keep weaponizing the Bible to exclude those whose lifestyle and behavior go against our culture, our vision, and with whom we disagree.


We so often draw lines about whom we will love and whom we will be tempted to cast in the role of “less loving” in our lives. This happens in the hearts and minds of both individuals and the church. Jesus could not be clearer or bolder: It is not by our theological correctness, not by our moral purity, not by our impressive knowledge that everyone will know that we are his disciples. It is quite simply by our loving acts: acts of service and sacrifice, and acts that point to the love of God for the world made known in Jesus Christ.


The movement Jesus invited his disciples to join was a movement of social transformation, a movement that stood with the marginalized no matter the margins in which they were pushed. It is God taking the initiative to sacrifice Godself, not humans that must bid for atonement. God is the first who so loved the world, that in Jesus, became flesh so to become love incarnate. It is love that prevented Jesus from making a case about Judas when the latter left the room to go sell Jesus. Instead, Jesus called the eleven who were still in the room with him to take a NEW allegiance. It is not to a God who takes an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth that we bear allegiance. It is not a God without mercy who makes us pay for our iniquities with whom we are in a relationship. Jesus redefined not only God’s identity but human’s identity for his disciples then and for us. What is new is that God was so often depicted as a blood lover demanding sacrifice, it took Jesus to reveal that God is loving, God is forgiving, and God is merciful. Jesus told the disciples that there is space in the room for love even in the midst of suffering, separation, and betrayal.


That is why love becomes so central to our salvation. It is by love that Jesus initiated salvation without hesitation, lending his hands to the disinherited and the damned of the earth. Jesus did not abolish the law. Jesus accomplished the law so that humans are no longer saved by their own doings and means. Humans are saved by the sacrificial love of Christ.


When you hear people insisting about Sabbath, the Ten Commandments, and Leviticus, when you feel a verse being used as a bullet to gun you down, do not argue with them. We are just not following the same leader. While Jesus was respectful of the law, he knew not to let himself be enslaved by the law. While Jesus was a faithful Jew, he knew and taught that compassion is a fruit of universal love, but indifference is not an excuse for respect for the law. In his parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus pointed to those who were indifferent to the needs of someone suffering and glorified a Samaritan who practiced the law of universal love before the textual and rigid law as taught by hypocrites and manipulators. Today, the laws of the land still promote dispossessing women of rights over their own bodies. Today, the laws of the land still promote individuality over collectivity. But it belongs to us to stand with the oppressed in love and express our concerns for the needs of the marginalized.


The fear of NEW and of change is innate in human beings. But I must share with you that new is never started from scratch. No matter how new your car is, it will have tires until a technology being developed for many years (so not new) allows it to fly. It is Lavoisier, a French philosopher, who said: “Rien ne se perd, rien ne se crée, tout se transforme (Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed).” Change is inevitable; nothing remains the same as the second before. We may not capture the change, but change is happening. If you want to know who invented the ball just watch the sun and the moon and realize that nothing is really new until we become aware of it. (It is a matter of awareness.)


Jesus did not abolish the law, because it is necessary to know what the price is that was paid for us to be redeemed. Have you been to a store during a sale and seen the original price tag still glued on the product now discounted? Without the old tag, the buyer wouldn’t know the original price of the item and compare it with the discount.  Without the law, grace is not just free, it is meaningless. We understand the significance of grace only when we can evaluate the impossibility of remaining faithful to the law. The new commandment is built on the basis of the old. Love is just emphasized.


Now, sisters and brothers, the cost of our salvation is LOVE. Don’t leave this church with ashes on your face or because you know two or three verses of the Bible by heart and pretend that we are Christians. It is by the way we show love to one another that we can demonstrate that Christ lives in us and us in him. That’s what is NEW! Amen.