Sometimes I don't get Jesus. I am sure I am not alone. I trust Jesus, I trust the scriptures, but despite four decades of instruction, some of His words leave me scratching my head. Here is one well known example: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another.
Wasn’t this commandment already part of the law? Jesus Himself quoted the Torah, You shall love your neighbor as yourself, calling this the second of the two great commands. So why does Jesus tell the disciples that He is giving them a new command?
I wondered about that for years before stumbling upon the obvious. Many Christians through the ages have expounded upon these words, and if I had read more widely I might have uncovered the answer. Jesus goes beyond Mosaic law by adding this qualifier: even as I have loved you, you also love one another. In the law of Moses, self-love is the standard. Loving our neighbors as ourselves is a lofty intention which would surely change the world. But it is not so high as the standard Jesus sets. We are to love our brothers as Jesus loves us.
Now I see why I failed to recognize the difference between the commands for so long. I simply feared that what Jesus was asking was impossible, a bar too high. To my shame, I have trouble loving my favorite people as I love myself. And even self-love is often insufficient in motivating me to do the what is best for my body, mind and soul. I think I would despair if I did not believe that God loves me more than I love myself.
Yet I do not believe that Jesus commands us to do the impossible. Rather, it seems to me that Jesus is calling us mortals into a mystery greater than most of us dare to imagine - into the very love which animates the Trinity. This whole last supper discourse in John is filled with quotes like these:
In that day you will know that I am in that Father and you in Me and I in you. (Jn 14:20)
I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you. (Jn 14:16-17)
Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love." (Jn 15:9)
This is Trinitarian language and it makes my head spin. Three separate identities eternally present in one another - one in being, unique in personality. I have always believed in the Trinity, knowing that we mortals would never be able to adequately grasp the nature of One completely transcending our experience. The more we try to explain the mystery, the more foolish we sound, and the greater risk we run of fighting childish battles over lines in the sand. For this reason, mistakenly, I have been slow to contemplate this mystery of Trinitarian love, even slower to recognize its immediate ramifications. Yet during His last hours on earth, Jesus felt an urgent need to emphasize His oneness with the Father, and His oneness with us, and our security in the Father, Son and Spirit.
Preparing for our Wittenberg gathering in Trento last year, I began to see how vital this love of the Trinity is for Christian unity. Abiding in the mystery of Oneness with Christ in the Father through the Holy Spirit is our foundation and our hope. Jesus never prays that his disciples will agree on doctrine. He never spells out how the Church is to be structured. He does not give any lessons in conflict resolution. Rather he prays this, "I do not ask on behalf of these (disciples) alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one, even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us so that the world may believe that You sent Me."
It is possible that we Christians could work out our differences and still fall short of the unity Jesus intends. Doctrinal discussion is important, certainly. But in order for it to bear fruit, it must flow from transformed hearts and minds. Jesus is not calling us to present a united front; He is praying that we may be one even as the Father and the Son are one. He is praying for us to be drawn up into the eternal, self-giving, joyous love of the Trinity. It is a hope deeper, more wonderful and mystical than I imagined when I first felt called to prayer for Christian unity. But it is the only kind of unity which will bring glory to our Triune God.