Love Your Neighbor
Not long ago, I was in Chennai for two weeks with a class of twenty aspiring apologists from all across the country. There was something peculiar about this bunch that caught my attention from day one. It is not very surprising in such settings to find people who are extremely intellectual and focused, often pulling out a trick or two to impress the others with their academic rigor. But this particular bunch, much to my surprise, was far less interested in impressing one another with their logical skills than they were with their impressive efforts in being dil-logical—"dil" is the Hindi word for "heart."(1) This particular class never let an opportunity to love one another pass by in vain. They jumped in unison at every chance to care for one another.
All of this came powerfully to mind this week in a reading of John 13:34. Mandatum novum, as it reads in Latin. A new command I give you, says Jesus: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
Almost all of us have an intense fascination and excitement for most things new: a new day, a new thought, a new essay from A Slice of Infinity, a new phone, a new car, a new home, and so on. Interestingly, the very old thing about our fascination with the new thing is its unbelievably transient shelf-life. The charm of the new is fleeting and sooner than later always fades away.
But as I read these words of Jesus, I was imagining a war-torn nation and its ravaged people who had been waiting for something new for hundreds of years. It had been 1400 years since God had given them the commandments. It had been 400 years since God had last spoken through one of the prophets. A new word from God, a new messiah, a new leader, a new king—a new something, please. To break the monotony of the old, to liberate them from the age-old despair of silence, anything new any day would surely have been most welcome. And here is Jesus with a new command!
The Jews divided the 613 commandments of the Law into 248 positive and 365 negative commands.(2) Just in case you missed it, this should be read as 248 do's and 365 don'ts. Only my mother could have come anywhere close to these many number of do's and don'ts. If you had 613 to remember, let alone 613 to practice, would you not have been most enthusiastic to have received a new one after all those centuries?
When Jesus on the very last night of his life on earth, hours before the crucifixion, presented this commandment, I imagine this must have been received with unparalleled attention. Here, all 613 commandments seemingly shrunk into just one. A brand new one. But on closer look, all jaws would drop even more so the next day when they discover the weight of it in its outworking in the life of Jesus himself. The most grotesque public display of love that the world would ever need.
This mandate to love one another, for most, evokes an unpleasant (covert, if not overt) resistance or even a rebellion from deep within. Interestingly, the similar command to "love my neighbor," though also inconvenient, still has in my mind the potential for manipulation. If things got just a little too difficult with my neighbor, I could always move houses. Yet, this commandment reminds us that Jesus has left us no such room.
But as if that were not enough to blow our minds, he goes on to press his mandatum novum from the who to the how. "Love one another as I have loved you!" Earlier, it was "love your neighbor as yourself." Besides moving homes, I still had the potentiality of loving myself lesser (if I were that mad) to be able to hate my neighbor more. But he seems to be stripping me of even that privilege here. Far more than simply learning to live with the difficult and the unlovable, Jesus asks us to love them as he loves them. In other words, love sacrificially, by all means, with all intensity, and unconditionally!(3)
I trained and worked as a physical therapist in a renowned mission hospital (CMC, Vellore) where stories like the one to follow are dime a dozen. This is a true story of a frail seventy year old. She might well have been fifty and aged simply from years of stress on her entire frame. Faithfully, morning after morning, for months on end, she would wheel her fourteen year old daughter in a creaky old chair. For at least five years, this was how the family spent their vacation every summer. Their daughter had to be secured to the wheelchair as her muscles would occasionally shake and throw her off balance. Her face, hands, and feet would at times writhe uncontrollably and she would break into laughter inappropriately. As this drama kept unfolding and repeating itself day after day, there was a great object lesson in love that would get enacted daily, too. The frail old mother would profusely rain kisses on her daughter, comforting her 14 year old child, and whispering something in her ears. Her entire body would amazingly calm and settle down.
In some faint, quaint ways, isn’t this comparable to the love with which we are loved by our Maker? Tormented and suffering, inappropriate and difficult, God seems to see something in us and chooses to love us, to rain affection on wayward children. What is it that God sees in us? God sees us as his own. When I am called but struggling to love a neighbor, acquaintance, colleague, boss, or in-laws, could it be that I am failing to see them as my own?
The picture of a mother raining kisses and owning her beautiful child against all odds points me to the cross of Jesus, who lavished his love on all humanity, compelling us to love the same. Seeing the world as our own mandatum novum is the disciple’s badge. And the world will see and know Whose we are. It's time we showed some dil-logic!
Charles Premkumar is a speaker and writer at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Mumbai, India.
(1) Anuja Chauhan: Coined and popularised, "Be a little dil-logical," a Lays chips (Pepsico) catchphrase.
(2) Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology, Victor Books, Wheaton, IL, 1987, electronic media.
(3) R. Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe. Preaching the Word (Wheaton, Crossway, 1999), Electronic ed.